HL Deb 01 August 1951 vol 173 cc194-203

Debate resumed.


My Lords, what I have to say can be said in a very few minutes. To-morrow, as we all know, this House goes into Recess, but the debate on the issue that we have been discussing to-day will gather in intensity in the three Territories of Central Africa, reaching its climax, I suppose, when the Secretaries of State arrive there in the autumn. I do not often quote from the Daily Herald with very warm approval, but I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to what I thought was an extremely wise piece of advice in the Daily Herald of June 14. Referring to the Report, it said: What is now necessary is that the plan should not be hastily judged, but carefully considered by all the peoples concerned. That appears to me to be the epitome of good sense. But who are the peoples in Africa? Sometimes we read, and sometimes we hear, sentiments expressed which tend to becloud that issue. Surely the peoples of Central Africa, and of East Africa too, are those who intend it to be the home of their children and their children's children.

About fifty years ago my father was a very junior colleague of Lord Milner. Looking at these Territories of Central Africa with the unclouded eyes of a very young man, he came to a series of conclusions, which he wrote down, about the future pattern that they would assume. Much has happened that he did not foresee; much that he foresaw has not happened, but certainly the fifty years of progress in the three Central African Territories to which this Report pays tribute are a great reality. The pattern of trusteeship and the pattern of partnership in these three Territories is indeed a shining reality. "Trusteeship" is a very old term with us; it is nothing new to the British race. It was first used, in that sense, in a House of Commons Committee as far back as the year 1837. Gradually, and almost entirely within this century, we have seen the growth in Africa of something else—the growth of partnership. Partnership is the pattern of the future. We have in front of us this project for closer association, the pattern of a partnership in Africa on a grand scale. So far-reaching a proposal "should not be hastily judged," wisely commented the Daily Herald. It is, therefore, the more deplorable that immoderate and unreasonable men, with preconceived and misconceived views, should have tried to muddy the pool and thus do such a monstrous disservice to so many people in these Territories.

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred to some such propaganda. The trouble, as I think he himself said, is that, when you are assessing African opinion, too often it is the noisiest that assails your ears. This is a policy of moderation, and you can counsel moderation. You may indeed preach it; but you cannot possibly agitate for moderation. So the man who agitates against you gets most of the ear of the crowd. I should like to draw attention to a certain statement—and I do so with an especial feeling of shame that such a statement should have gone out from this country in what is believed to be a responsible journal. For this is the kind of thing which can only do the most unmitigated harm to the cause we all have at heart. The statement comes from the New Statesman of June 23, which said: Such is the attitude of the great majority of the settlers in all three Territories, that Federal Union would certainly be used by them to reduce the Africans of the two Protectorates to the status of hopeless servitude which the Africans of Southern Rhodesia now occupy. I should be most unwilling to believe that that statement was actuated by pure malice. It is the grossest distortion, and if one assumes, charitably, that it proceeds from mere ignorance, it is little the less deplorable for that.

I suppose that it is true to say that not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the world to-day the tendency is towards larger and larger groupings, as the position of the small nation becomes progressively more precarious. In such a grouping as this you broaden the basis of the economy and thus you strengthen it and, to some extent, insulate it against the buffets of booms and slumps. The whole aspect of strategy, which must always be in the forefront of our minds, is strengthened. A well known Victorian statesman speaking on federation once said: The justification of any association is that the bundle is stronger than the sticks that compose it. The justification for the binding up of this bundle is absolutely clear. This Report has been prepared, as many of your Lordships have said, by men whose impartiality was not in question, and to whose expert knowledge all attested; and they reached agreement. I do not suggest for one moment that the Report is perfect as it stands. What I should like to say is this. I hope that those in the three Territories who find themselves in disagreement with the men who prepared the Report, will not just damn the idea of federal union but will address themselves to finding and devising a better form of relationship in closer association.

Every possible difficulty can be placed in the way of federation. It is an act of faith, as the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, said. No Federation has ever been easily achieved, and none ever will be. Federation means giving up something of what you have and what you know, in return for something which you have not yet experienced. The oldest Federation in the British Empire and Commonwealth to-day is Canada. Its federation took place in the lifetime of men still alive. It has risen, since it federated, from a small, poor and unimportant series of North American Colonies, to become the fourth biggest manufacturing and exporting nation in the world. I should like to point out, taking Canada as my example, how federation stirs up opinion in the most astonishing way, and how that opinion swings from one extreme to another and, of course, may well swing back again. The Canadian Federation took place in 1867. A year later, in 1868, they had an election in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotians wished to withdraw from the Federation. In that election, only one Member was returned to Parliament who was in favour of the Federation. However, they were prevailed on to stay, and an election took place four years later on just the same subject, and on that occasion only one person who was not in favour of federation was returned, after four years' experience.

Those who tend to stress the very great difference between Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia should study the even greater difference between Quebec and Ontario, which have existed side by side for so long. I think this plan answers a question which has been, perhaps unspoken, in the minds of the peoples of Central Africa for some time: "Just where are we going?" This plan creates for them a goal to which the people of Central Africa can confidently march; it offers a grouping for strength; it offers some insurance for political stability in the future and, perhaps, the creation of yet another great nation of the Commonwealth. Let those who think that the difficulties in the way are insuperable reflect how those difficulties may accumulate with a terrible momentum in the years to come, until, working perhaps to the worst case one can envisage, a fearful conflict of extremes ensues.

In bringing my remarks to a close I would say just this. Perhaps several of your Lordships, besides myself, read a book that came out about two years ago, written by a distinguished American author. I do not quote it for its contents, which are not very convincing, but for its title. That book was called Last Chance in Africa. I do not say that this is the last chance in Central Africa to bring about the closer association we wish to see, but I do say, with my noble friend Lord Swinton, that it may be many years before such an opportunity recurs and that it is doubtful whether it will ever recur in the same form and under these conditions. Mere constitutional change does not by itself solve the problems of plural societies; it solves them only when it is allied to the good will, the good sense and the farsightedness of the people of the Territories concerned. To that we appeal, and on that we rely.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, spoke just now, he said that he counted it a privilege, to join in this debate. On my own behalf I repeat his words. For eight of the last eighteen months I have, been working on the continent of Africa and I have been able to see the situation at first hand. I would say to your Lordships from firm conviction, based on that experience, that His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on this scheme, and I hope that your Lordships will give it the fullest possible support, so that the terms therein envisaged may be brought into effect at the earliest possible moment. I beg to support the scheme, and I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, for raising this vital matter.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of this extremely harmonious debate, which, so far as I know, has produced no serious difference of conclusions, although inevitably there have been some differences of argument, I rise only to support, very shortly, but most sincerely, what has been said by Lord Swinton and other speakers as to the scheme of the White Paper to bring about the closer association of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland. I believe that this is vital, for many reasons, and I believe that it is extremely important that such a closer association should be achieved at the earliest practicable moment. This was impressed upon me more and more by my experience in the Commonwealth Relations Office (in those days the Dominions Office) and in the Colonial Office during the war.

These three Territories, as I think anyone who knows them will confirm, and as Lord Swinton himself said, are in various respects interdependent. One thinks of the Wankie collieries in Southern Rhodesia which feed the industries of Northern Rhodesia, and the Kariba Gorge hydro-electric scheme, which is now, as your Lordships know, in contemplation and which will have to serve the areas on both sides of the Zambesi. There is, as Lord Harlech said in his speech, a constant flow of labour from one Territory to another. Economically and, I believe, socially, they ought to form a single closely-knit unit. There are those, I know, who criticise the actual details of the constitutional structure of the Federation which has been recommended by the committee of officials, and who, like, I think, Lord Hailey, in the speech he made to your Lordships this afternoon, believe that that portion which deals in particular with native policy will be cumbrous and difficult to work.

As your Lordships, or anyone who has had anything to do with this very longstanding problem, will know, that has always been a stumbling block in earlier schemes for this same purpose, and it is quite possible that the machinery which is proposed by this Committee could be simplified and improved with the passage of time, and in the light of experience. Indeed, I have no doubt that Lord Ogmore will tell us, as Lord Lucan has already told us, that His Majesty's Government will have to study these proposals, and possibly amend them, in the light of the personal visit to the Territories of the two Secretaries of State, which is to take place in the autumn, and the consultations that they are going to hold there. And after that, Parliament (that is to say, all of us) will have to consider the completed scheme that they put forward as a result of those consultations.

As I see it, what really concerns us to-day is this. Here in this White Paper we have a scheme by which that closer association which is so ardently desired by us all can be made an accomplished fact. As Lord Tweedsmuir has said, to damn it because it is not in every way perfect would be an act of very great folly. With all deference to your Lordships, from such experience of politics as I have had—which now, I am afraid, runs back over a good many years—I feel bound to give this serious warning to the House to-day. If this initiative is killed, either here or in the Territories themselves, I believe that the achievement of the closer association is likely to be put off, certainly for years, and possibly for a generation.

In that time a great deal can happen and, as Lord Tweedsmuir has already said, the opportunity may never recur, and certainly not in precisely this form. In any case, whether or not we agree with the scheme as a whole, there is much in this Report of which we can all approve. As has been mentioned by one speaker after another, it is based in particular on the idea of a partnership between Black and White, which is the developing pattern of our whole Colonial Empire.

My Lords, for those reasons, I hope most fervently that the Government will go forward on the basis of this Report. If they think right, let them amend or improve it, in the light of further study and consultations on the spot. I am sure that noble Lords, in all parts of the House, will be very ready to consider sympathetically the completed scheme. But I beg them not to allow it to fall by the way. If, in practice, the scheme proves difficult to work, it can always be amended further by the ordinary processes of evolutionary government—throughout our history that has been the British way. But the scheme must not be allowed to die. That, I am quite certain, would be a disaster, not only to the peoples of the Territories themselves, both African and European, but to the Empire as a whole.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will be most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, for raising this Motion, and to the number of noble Lords who have intervened to give us the benefit of their experience and their views on this subject. I am not one who believes in what Mr. Lloyd George used to call "unbounded faith, unsupported by facts." Thus, it is of some significance to me to note the experience that we have had exemplified in the debate. I have made a rough check, and I find that no fewer than three noble Lords who have previously been Secretaries of State to the Colonies have spoken, and, if the noble Marquess will allow me to tie him up with this other category, one noble Lord who has been Secretary of State to the Dominions, one who was Under-Secretary to the Colonies, a former Governor of Kenya, and a former High Commissioner to the Union of South Africa. I do not believe that anywhere else in the world one could have expected such a wealth of experience to be exemplified and to assist us in a debate. Speaking for myself, and I am sure for the Government, I am most grateful to those noble Lords who have taken the time and the trouble to come here and give us the benefit of their advice.

I am sure many of your Lordships feel that in spite of the many difficulties and dangers of the time in which we live there is really no more important subject that we can discuss than this. I believe it was the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who said that this is a most important subject and one which affects a large and important part of a vast Continent. I do not think he used those words, but I do not suppose I am doing him an injustice in paraphrasing them in that way. I can assure noble Lords that the contributions they have made wi11 be most carefully studied. I hope they will be studied by all who are interested in the subject, and certainly they will be carefully studied by the Government. I make that qualification because I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and with other noble Lords, in deprecating the wild and alarmist statements that have been made in certain places in this country. At a time when, broadly speaking, there has been a considerable measure of agreement, in this House and elsewhere, on the desirability of some such broad plan, and when it has been considered most carefully in Africa, it is most unfortunate that we should have had an attack of this sort, not upon the details but upon the scheme as a whole. I cannot help feeling that a great deal of injustice has been done to our fellow countrymen in Africa.

I do not know why, but for some reason anyone in Eastern or Central Africa who happens to have European blood in his veins seems constantly to be the object not only of criticism but of slander in this country. I remember going out there myself a couple of years ago, and, after seeing some of the work that had been done, particularly in the municipality of Nairobi—for example, in regard to housing, medical arrangements, and that sort of thing for the Africans—I was very impressed. I thought it a great tribute to the people who had gone out there, that they had spent so much thought, time and money on helping their African fellow citizens. To hear these same people castigated by persons who have never been nearer Africa than Southend really makes one feel most upset.

Another point that I want to bring out here is that the Europeans from these Territories have a great regard for the Africans. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and myself were in Africa at the same time. On speaking to the Europeans there I found that they had the greatest sympathy with and love for the African peoples. There is no other phrase that one can use. When in 1949 we had a particularly successful African Conference in London, I remember the pride with which many Europeans from East and Central Africa came to me and expressed their appreciation of the way in which the African members from East and Central Africa had taken part in the discussions. They were most proud of them, and they said: "Is it not wonderful to think that so many of our people can hold their own in a gathering of this kind?" Knowing that fact, it always seems to me to be most unfortunate that we should in any way deprecate what they are doing. I know that when the two Secretaries of Stale go to Africa they will have the sympathy and support of your Lordships and will receive in the Territories a very warm welcome. I believe that all points of view will be put to them.

I am sure that your Lordships will not wish me to-day to go into any details. It would not be proper for me to do so. My noble friend the Earl of Lucan has set out once more the Government's views on the matter. We adhere fully to the policy which we have re-stated on numerous occasions and to which he has referred to-day. I believe that, with statesmen of the calibre of those who are going out to deal with this matter—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and my right hon- ourable friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—and with statesmen of the calibre of those of all races who are in Africa, we shall come to a proper solution of this difficult question. Mention has been made of two gentlemen who are of great distinction and who would, indeed, be of great distinction in any company—Sir Godfrey Huggins, and Mr. Welensky. I believe Sir Godfrey Huggins has one further distinction beyond those that have been mentioned today—that is, that until quite recently (I do not know whether he still does it) he has performed operations in the morning before going to his office. Therefore he is, I believe, the only man in history who has combined the two active occupations of a consulting surgeon and a Prime Minister. I do not think I need detain your Lordships any longer, except once more to express the Government's gratitude to every noble Lord who has spoken and particularly to the noble Viscount. Lord Swinton, who so ably opened this debate.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, we are all most grateful to the Minister of Civil Aviation for that very sympathetic and understanding reply. He was good enough to say that he was sure that what had been said in this debate would be of value and assistance to the Ministers who are going out to Africa on this mission. That was, indeed, the whole purpose of this debate. I hope and believe that what has been said on both sides of the House—and the speeches have shown, as I hoped they would, how closely we are together in this matter, and how keen we are that this experiment should succeed—will encourage all those who have to deal with these matters in those Territories to come to a wise and practical conclusion. If we have contributed to that, we shall indeed have done well in our generation. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.