§ 3.7 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT rose to call attention to the recent Government Statement relating to Seretse Khama; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to the recent Government Statement relating to Seretse Khama. I may say at once that I think the one entirely satisfactory feature in this somewhat melancholy business is that the House has met to-day to discuss it. I readily acknowledge the acquiescence of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in calling us up, contrary to our usual practice on a Monday. So we arrived from a country resembling "Greenland's icy mountains" to come here to discuss this matter. In some sense this is a small matter, but in another sense it is a symbol of an immense problem which confronts us. To my mind it is bound to have wide repercussions. I know that it is a very difficult and a very delicate situation, and it is certainly no desire of mine to exacerbate that situation or make it more difficult. I hope that we shall to-day have a helpful debate—not a debate of mere tu quoques, which would be far too easy, for I think that the problem which confronts us represents the first small step in a problem of extreme gravity.
§ There is no doubt that the first consideration in our mind to-day must be the well-being of this particular tribe, the Bamangwato tribe, a tribe whose association with us has been happy and honourable to both sides. We can both look back with feelings of pride to the long association between the great Khama and the great Victoria. But though that is the first consideration, it would be unrealistic not to remember that we must consider this matter in a wider setting. 1100 We must consider the effect of what we are doing on the policies of the Union of South Africa. We must consider the effect of what we are doing on Africa as a whole. We must consider its effect on the hopes and aspirations of the African people, and on the experiment—the most interesting experiment—which we are now trying in the Gold Coast; and upon the wide prospect of African federation.
§ I understand (no doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong) that this very next month a conference is to begin to consider the prospect of Africans' freely coming into the Federation in Central Africa; and I understand that a deputation of African representatives is coming for a discussion before that conference begins. That being so, I say that this is too big an issue out of which to try to make Party capital, and I, at any rate, shall certainly not try to do so. But I shall be disappointed if this debate does not point the way to some form of possible constitutional reform. I very much hope that the noble Marquess, in the speech he will make, will be able to give us some indication as to the possibilities of setting up some kind of Legislative Council for Bechuanaland as a whole: a proposal which seems to have received the general approval of the chieftains of the reserves in Bechuanaland.
It may be that such a step will take some time; and that leads me to say that the time which we tried to secure—five years—was most valuable. I believe it to be entirely untrue to say that it is always cowardly to play for time. There are occasions when time may work in our favour. Certainly our Government were reluctant, in view of the rapidly changing situation, to make any final decision at once. It is two years since we published our White Paper and I, at any rate, while I accept full responsibility for my share in that Paper, did not find it an easy decision to make. I was certainly not cocksure that I was right. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House referred to a remark which, I venture to think, was made by Lord Melbourne, though he attributed it to Sidney Smith:
I wish I were as certain of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything.
My Lords, this was not a matter about which one could be cocksure.
§ Since that time, in those two years, the situation has changed rather dramatically. 1101 In those days there was at least reason to doubt what the feelings of the tribe were in regard to Seretse Khama: they were divided. But to-day there is very little division. The overwhelming majority of the tribe to-day, so I believe—the noble Marquess will tell me if I am wrong—are in favour of the return of Seretse Khama. I myself do not doubt that the return of Tshekedi, or the authorisation of the return of Tshekedi, in due course has made that feeling even stronger. I will say to the noble Marquess this; that, in the state of feeling in the tribe to-day, I believe it is going to be exceedingly difficult to find anyone who can act as chief unless the consent, collaboration and co-operation of Seretse Khama are obtained in getting some new chief appointed That leads me to ask this. The post offered to Seretse Khama was one in Jamaica. Did the Government explore the possibility of offering some kind of a job in Africa—perhaps even in Bechuanaland? If they had explored that possibility, they might have been able to secure the consent of Seretse Khama to co-operate with them in appointing a. new chieftain. Whatever the merits of the Government's decision may be in substance—and I will discuss that matter presently—I am bound to say that in my view, alike in timing and in method, it has been absolutely deplorable.
§ The first thing is to show the tribe that their welfare is our first consideration. They are not to be a pawn and used as a pawn in somebody else's game of politics. In Africa and in our African Federation we are going—at least I hope we are going—upon the line of complete co-operation with the Africans. So far as we are concerned, we do not want to have any kind of a second-class citizenship which is open to Africans. Let other people do what they like in their own areas, in their own territories, which are no concern of ours. We will not interfere with them; and no one. I presume, will desire to interfere with us. Rightly or wrongly, two years ago the Labour Government, in the circumstances then existing, came to a decision. Just over two years ago we published a White Paper, and that decision which we then reached was come to after taking the advice of Sir Evelyn Baring—who, I suppose, knows, or did know then, more about this Territory than any man living 1102 —after taking the advice of the Resident Commissioner, after taking the advice of the District Commissioner, and after a judicial inquiry.
§ We did not publish the report of that judicial inquiry. I am glad, however, that it is now in the bands of the Government. Of course, the noble Marquess has it; he can tell us whether we were right or if we were wrong in not publishing the report of that judicial inquiry. Personally, I thought then, though my instinct always is to publish these things, that on the whole it was desirable that it should not be published. Of course, it is for the noble Marquess to say; and he is perfectly entitled, if he thinks it is desirable, to take a different attitude from the attitude we then took. Although we obtained all this advice and consulted everybody on the spot, I take the fullest responsibility for the advice which we tendered to the House in our White Paper. I shelter myself behind no one.
§ We came to the conclusion then, to put it quite shortly, that in the interests of peace, order and good government, both Tshekedi and Seretse should be required to reside outside the particular Reserve for a period of at least five years, and that during that period Seretse should not be recognised as chief. That decision, rightly and inevitably, produced criticism. It produced criticism, both in relation to Tshekedi and in relation to Seretse, and I ask your Lordships to believe that, so far as I was concerned, nurtured in the principles of the Common Law of this country, and believing in the doctrine of the rule of law, it was no easy decision to come to. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House criticised us. He put forward a most cogent criticism. It is true that he confined his remarks to Tshekedi but, as I shall show presently, they applied with equal force to Seretse. He asked: "What crime has Tshekedi committed? He has not been charged with any crime, much less found guilty of any crime. What moral right have you to banish such a man?" He referred to Magna Carta and to Statutes of Henry III, and so on, in support of that principle.
§ My Lords, if that be the right criterion applicable to this case, then I readily admit that our decision was completely indefensible. But, my Lords, so is the action of the present Government. I could 1103 retort: What crime has Seretse committed? It is no crime under British law to marry a white wife. It is quite true that he did not consult the tribe. For that you might well withhold recognition or, if you will, refuse recognition of his chieftainship. But what right have you to banish him from his homeland, to send him to Jamaica or anywhere else, if he has committed no crime and has not been accused of any crime? The argument of the noble Marquess about Tshekedi comes back like a boomerang, and applies with equal force with regard to Seretse. And if that be the right criterion, if you are to apply the principles of Magna Carta and the principles which through the centuries we have evolved in our highly civilised society, then, my Lords, by your own argument you stand convicted. But I did not believe at the time (I say this quite frankly), that that was the right criterion. I did not believe at the time that it was possible to transmute into a primitive tribal organisation the principles which we have worked out for our sort of society.
Another principle was enunciated in those debates. It was said that in such an organisation the rights of the individual must give way to the well-being of the community. It was only because we were satisfied, from the advice we received, that the well-being of the community demanded it, that we declared that these two men, Tshekedi and Seretse, neither of whom had committed any crime, should for a period of time absent themselves from their own homeland. Your Lordships will remember, that as a result of Parliamentary criticism, we sent out our observers to report on the attitude of the tribe to Tshekedi's return. The observers even failed to get a joint kgotla held. They reported—I read from the Majority Report, though Mr. Lipson's Report is not substantially different:
We have no hesitation in declaring that the return of Tshekedi Khama in any capacity whatever at the present time, and in the present circumstances, would be contrary to the wishes of the majority of the tribe, and bitterly resented by a substantial number. On this issue emotions now run dangerously high throughout the tribe.
It was in the light of that knowledge that the present Government decided to allow Tshekedi to return, whilst upholding the decision that Seretse should not return.
§ I want to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations: Will you allow Seretse to return on the same terms as you have allowed Tshekedi to return? Instead of giving him a post in Jamaica, will you allow him to take up some post, if not within the Reserve at any rate within Bechuanaland? So far as I know, I have never in my life seen Seretse and I cannot speak as to his attitude. If you do that, might you not be in a position to stipulate for terms as to the line he would take in helping you to get some new chief elected? And might you not use the help which both Tshekedi and Seretse might give to establish some kind of Legislative Council for the area of Bechuanaland as a whole? I know that that matter was under consideration by some persons in the Commonwealth Relations office when we were still in power, and I hope that those embryonic proposals have since been carried further and given more thought. Is there any hope of active steps being taken to set up such a Council at the present time?
§ Now, my Lords, comes my real criticism of the Government. Had you followed our White Paper, you would have had at least three years before it was necessary to make a decision; and during those three years you might have tried all sorts of constitutional experiments. You might have tried a period of direct rule. You might have tried to introduce some elements of democracy. You might have tried to introduce some kind of Legislative Council for Bechuanaland. When I talk about democracy, I do not want to deride the system of kgotlas—a system deeply embedded in native tradition, which to my mind, it is quite wrong to designate as mere mob rule. But, worst of all, you announced your decision, at the very moment of time when you knew that a deputation of these tribal leaders was on its way to this country, to make representations to the Secretary of State. I confess that I thought the excuse which the noble Marquess made—namely, that he had made up his mind and that they could not adduce new facts—was the weakest I ever heard. You might just as well say, that when a magistrate is adjudicating in a case and he hears overwhelming evidence for the prosecution, he should say straight 1105 away, "Well, I am not going to hear the defence at all." On the contrary, having received in my time, I suppose, many hundreds of deputations, I would say deliberately that the fact that you know you are not going to give in to the deputation, that you are going to decide against them, is all the more reason why you should see them. You have to convince the deputation that you have seriously taken into consideration everything that is said, that you are wholeheartedly anxious to do what is right, and what is fair and what is just. To refuse at this time a deputation which is willing to come, would to my mind be really disastrous if you want to impress upon these people that you are giving their affairs close and anxious consideration, and that you are willing to take everything into consideration.
§ That being so I hope that in the course of our debate to-day the noble Marquess will be able to tell us that he will change his mind and will receive this deputation. The noble Marquess is the last man in the world to wish to pose as a kind of "pocket Hitler," and to dictate what is to be dons without regard to the susceptibilities of those with whom he is dealing. Let him receive this deputation. Even though he cannot grant them their wishes, let them come away feeling that he has their point of view at heart. It may even be—it has happened before now—that the deputation will realise that perhaps there are reasons which should make them hesitate in putting forward the arguments which they have come prepared to advance. I must say that, to my mind, suddenly to come to a decision at this time, a month before the Africans are coming to us to discuss this question of Central African Federation, at a time when the people from this tribe are anxious to come over and put their case to us here, is most lamentable. I ask the noble Marquess to receive this deputation and, if he does, to make it plain to them that the door is not closed but, on the contrary, to make it plain that the door is ajar and that he is willing and, indeed, ever-ready to listen to any representations they may desire to make.
§ There is one other thing. I think that, from the point of view of method, the fact that this offer of a job in Jamaica—which is about as far away from Africa 1106 as you can get—was closely coincident in point of time with the decision permanently to deprive Seretse of his chieftaincy was wholly lamentable. It inevitably led to the suggestion (and this is a thing which I do not for a moment believe of the noble Marquess) that Seretse was blackmailed; that he was told that either he must go to Jamaica or lose his chieftainship. As I say, I do not for one moment believe that, but you have put a weapon into the hands of our enemies, and, believe me, our enemies are going to be very active on this. So it does seem to me that, from the point of view of timing and method, the decision which you have come to is wholly lamentable. As I have said before, we deliberately played for time, and, in a changing situation, I believe that that was a wise tiling to do. I believe that it is most unfortunate that owing to the folly (as I see it) of rushing into this thing at the present time, we have to announce a decision on this matter just at the time when the political issue in the Union of South Africa—as to which I say nothing at all; it is entirely their own affair—is so much embittered. I believe that the effect on the Africans throughout these vast territories which we have to administer will be absolutely deplorable. I believe that the repercussions of this will be far wider than your Lordships realise. I have no doubt at all that those who wish us ill will take every opportunity to exploit this difficulty to the fullest extent and it was all unnecessary. There was no need to make the announcement now. You could have waited. But you rushed in. Dare I say that you rushed in where angels feared to tread?
§ But what has been done, has been done. I think the result is disastrous but there is some help, I hope, to be got out of this matter if you will still receive the deputation. If you will tell them that you are ready to listen to anything they have to say you may persuade them, you may influence them. If to-day the noble Marquess could indicate, in some way or other, that his mind is not closed to this question of setting up some kind of Legislative Council for Bechuanaland, to some form of constitutional advance there—if he can do these things, I think he will go some way to repair the damage which this unwise pronouncement—unwise alike in substance, in timing and in method— 1107 has, to my mind, produced. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.35 p.m.
My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I enter upon this debate in your Lordships' House because I am very conscious (as I feel all of your Lordships must be) that: this is no parochial matter which has come up for immediate disposal and which will then recede into limbo. As we know, this is a matter which has an unfortunate habit of not receding into limbo. Instead, we have in front of us a problem surrounded by a veritable magazine of potential explosives, and no noble Lord taking part in this debate can do so without being aware of his grave responsibility in venturing his opinion upon a matter so very delicate and sensitive. But I think it is proper that I should record the attitude of noble Lords who sit in this part of the House, even if it is merely to point out that we can claim that we have maintained a consistency towards this matter from the beginning.
Your Lordships will remember that when this matter was debated in your Lordships' House about nine months ago—that is, in June of last year—the noble Earl's Party who then formed His Majesty's Government resisted to the last ditch a proposal made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, for an impartial inquiry into this whole matter, and that both Tshekedi and Seretse Khama should be allowed to return to their native land. I must confess that even to this day I do not fully understand the motives which cause a Labour Government—a progressive Government I have heard them called by their supporters—to resist such a proposal; and to-day, it is the same Party, though now in Opposition, which turns a Parliamentary somersault and presses Her Majesty's Government to take almost the identical action which only nine months ago they condemned as undesirable and unrealistic. Equally puzzling is the volte face of the Conservative Party, whose whole strength went into the Lobby last June to vote that the banishment order against Tshekedi Khama should be rescinded. I admit, of course, that this vote did relate to Tshekedi and not to Seretse, but I hope to show that there is very little difference in the general principle. The similarity 1108 is, indeed, made evident by the words of the noble Marquess in the last debate.
We on these Benches, I suppose, are open to the charge that it is easy to sit in chronic criticism without the responsibility given by being in imminent danger of being returned to power. But there are certain advantages in sitting in the same corner of your Lordships' House for a spell of some thirty years and watching the changing tempo—and sometimes, may I say, temper—of various noble Lords when they cross and re-cross the House from Government to Opposition and from Opposition to Government. A certain amount of dizziness is engendered, however, when the two major Parties exchange not only their rôles and their places but apparently also their ideas.
I am sure that those of us who feel we must criticise the action of Her Majesty's Government to-day are particularly regretful that the Minister whose action we must query is one who commands to such a peculiar extent the confidence, the esteem and the admiration of the whole House. And it is that circumstance which makes me wonder whether there is not behind this affair something of which we are not aware, something not fully disclosed, which has dictated such a surprising policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government. We are fully aware of the great delicacy of the position, and the last thing we want to do is to aggravate the difficulty or to cause embarrassment to those who, with integrity and bona fides, are struggling most earnestly to solve this prolonged and difficult problem. Assurance has been given in another place that no pressure from or influence by the Union of South Africa has entered into consideration of this matter in any shape or form. We are greatly relieved to hear that. But if there is some other factor of difficulty, I beg Her Majesty's Government to let us know, if it is possible to do so with propriety, what this other influence is which has caused such an apparently arbitrary and illiberal course to be proposed.
I am sure the noble Marquess will forgive me if I anticipate what I think is likely to be part of his defence—namely, that the present Government inherited an impossible situation from their predecessors. But the whole argument which the noble Marquess's Party put forward a year ago was that things must 1109 be given time to settle down, to readjust themselves, before we had resort to such a drastic and undemocratic procedure as banishment of a man who is convicted of no crime and who has not been heard in his own defence before an impartial tribunal. Let us concede, if you will, that under a Labour Government this looked-for settlement and readjustment did not come to fruition. There can be no doubt about that. But is that not all the more reason, particularly to supporters of the present Government, to continue this moderate and constructive policy under a Conservative Government, whose chief function, surely, is to succeed where the last Government failed? Things have not gone well, but I believe Her Majesty's present Government have the confidence of other Parties that it is not beyond their power to tide over, by modification and moderation, this particularly difficult situation, which holds within it the threat of even greater difficulties if it is not handled with meticulous care.
There is only one detail upon which I want to touch. I am sure that the whole question will be pretty thoroughly explored by the many noble Lords who I find are to contribute to your Lordships' debate to-day. My point is this: when Tshekedi Khama agreed, or was induced, to abjure all claims to the chieftainship or regency of his tribe, was it not implicit—plainly implicit—both in the mind of Tshekedi himself and in the minds of us all, that his action was undertaken in order to clear the way for Seretse Khama? He was to clear the way so that in due course Seretse should be in a position to resume the chieftainship. Many difficulties stood, and still stand, in the way of Seretse, but I submit that it was with the sole object of minimising these that Tshekedi took the course which he did. I am certainly anxious not to say anything indiscreet or embarrassing, but I would urge noble Lords to consider carefully the implication of this point, the conditions on which Tshekedi took the action which he did.
Finally I come to an inevitable part of the case against the noble Marquess's proposal. I am sure he is bravely facing the prospect of quotations from his own speech the last time this matter was discussed. I certainly would not for a moment wish to throw these in his teeth, but what I wish to do is to place these quotations tenderly and respectfully at 1110 his feet, in the hope that he will not deny paternity. With your Lordships' permission, because they are so important and since it is some time since they were given, I should like to read three short extracts from the speech of the noble Marquess, who at that time was Leader of the Opposition. Early in his speech he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, Col. 389):For a great many of us on these Benches, and I believe for a good many noble Lords in all parts of the House, it raises a fundamental principle of British justice—namely, that a British citizen should not be deprived or restricted in his rights and liberties except as the result of some offence of which he has been convicted under the law. There is nothing new about this principle. It goes back to early times in our history … It applies without distinction to British citizens of all races, religions, and colours. Tshekedi Khama is a a British protected person,"—and I say that this applies also to Seretse—which, for this purpose, is exactly the same thing, and it is our submission that this justice has been denied to him.The second quotation I have here is much on the same lire, and I should like to pass to my final quotation. The noble Marquess said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, Col. 392):This, to many of us—because this is not a Party issue—is a fundamental issue on which we do not feel we car afford to compromise. I most sincerely—and I mean it sincerely—beg the Government to retreat from the course on which they have so unhappily entered; to rescind the order of banishment on Tshekedi Khama, and to allow him to return to his tribal area with the full rights of a private citizen, to carry on his private affairs as a private citizen… That is all he asks for, and that, surely, is mere justice. If the Government are willing to do this, we on this side of the House, I am certain, shall be very happy, and we shall not seek to delve further into the past, which 1 agree it is better, in such circumstances, to bury.To my mind, those words of the noble Marquess sum up the view of noble Lords on this side of the House, who, I assure him. wish him well in his very difficult task; and for that reason I have pleasure in supporting the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, who moved this Motion.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I have though; it right to rise and speak now because it seems to me that it may be for the convenience of the 1111 House if fairly early in this debate I give my reasons for the action which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government with regard to Seretse Khama, the action to which the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, refers. Like the noble Earl, for the tone of whose speech I am most grateful, I do not want to be more controversial than I can help. A slanging match on a question like this would not redound to the credit of your Lordships' House. But strong attacks have been made on Her Majesty's Government and on myself, and I am sure that noble Lords in all parts of the House will agree that it is only fair that our case should be put. That will involve my going to some extent into past history. My main purpose, however, will be to explain the reasons for the present action and to answer, so far as I can, the criticisms that have been levelled against me.
First of all, I should like to say at once that I do not come to this Box to stand in a white sheet. I am entirely unrepentant. I thought that the noble Earl's case, though I fully recognise his embarrassment, was a pretty thin one. I believe the action we have taken is absolutely right, taking into account the circumstances with which we were faced. If there has been anything wrong in this unfortunate affair, it is that the decision was so long delayed that a matter that might very easily have been settled in the early stages with the full agreement of the tribe has been allowed to become inflamed into a dangerous ulcer. If there are any villains in this piece—and I am quite certain there are not any intentional villains—I submit they are not we, but the Party of the noble Lords opposite, which, by their hesitations and vacillations, allowed this unhappy position to arise. To my mind, this is a classic example of procrastination in public affairs. My grandfather, who, as your Lordships know, spent a long life in the service of his country, used to say that the whole art of politics was to settle small problems before they became big. But, if I may say so without offence, the Party of the noble Lords opposite have adopted in this case exactly the opposite course. They did nothing, and they continued to do nothing, over a whole period when something useful could have been done.
1112 I should like to remind the House of the salient facts—and they will be quite few—of the earlier chapters of this story. In 1948, Seretse Khama, who was not actually the chief of the Bamangwato Tribe, but was first in succession to the chieftainship, announced that he proposed to marry a white girl. There is nothing wicked about that. Had he been a private individual—"an ordinary individual" I think was the term used by the noble and learned Earl—there would have been nothing even blameworthy in it; he had a perfect right to marry the girl of his choice. But he was not a private individual; he was a ruler. And, as we all know—history is full of examples of it—rulers, though extremely fortunate in many ways, are limited in some, and especially in matters of marriage. For the tribal chief to marry a white girl was contrary to the most deeply held traditions and customs of his tribe. What was not a fault of any kind in an ordinary citizen was a serious fault in a chief, or in an aspiring chief. Before his marriage, therefore, every effort was made to dissuade him by his uncle, Tshekedi, by the tribal leaders, by the missionaries and by all the leading lights in the Bamangwato area. But he would not be persuaded. Indeed, instead of postponing his marriage his reaction was, as I think the White Paper says, to speed it up, and in September, 1948, he married the present Mrs. Khama.
The tribe, as your Lordships know, were seriously shaken and dismayed. A kgotla was called in November, 1948, at which Seretse himself was present, and the feeling was almost unanimous against the marriage. The tribe was not divided at that time, as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, suggested: there was an overwhelming majority against Seretse becoming chief. Seretse was told in no uncertain terms that he must choose between his wife and the chieftainship. We are bound to ask ourselves: Why did not His Majesty's Government act then? Why did they not accept the view of the tribe? Why did they not tell Seretse that, in the circumstances, he could not be chief? We are told now—the noble Earl did not say it, but it has been said in many quarters—that the opinion of the tribe should be conclusive. Why did not His Majesty's Government support the tribe at that time? If they had, the whole trouble would have been over; we 1113 should never have heard anything more about it at all. But they did absolutely nothing.
Nor was that the only chance. There was another kgotla held a month later, in December, 1948, and that kgotla also decided against Seretse, although not quite so overwhelmingly. His Majesty's Government could have acted then. But again, they did absolutely nothing. Why was that? I can think of a number of very good reasons, but I will not give them, for, as I have already explained, I do not want to be unduly controversial. I can only conclude that they could not make up their minds, and they therefore decided to let things slide. So the opportunity was lost of settling this matter finally with the full support of the tribe.
In the meantime, while the Government were vacillating, as your Lordships know, the opinion of the tribe began to swing over. There was a new factor which began to influence their attitude and which was not directly connected with the marriage. They began to ask themselves: if they did not get Seretse as chief, what would be the alternative? And the fear grew that it would be Tshekedi Khama. Anybody who knows Tshekedi knows that he is a man of the highest character and integrity who has been one of the most loyal subjects of the Crown. But he has also been a strong and even formidable ruler, and, like other strong rulers, he made enemies. The tribe had had experience of him as resent, and they did not want him as a permanent chief. So, at a kgotla which was held in June, 1949, the majority voted in favour of Seretse—though they shied off the question of the children, which, I submit, is a vital element in this problem.
Following that kgotla, His Majesty's Government did at last take some action: they appointed a judicial inquiry, which reported in December, 1949. The full details of that report we do not know. Your Lordships do not know them, and, frankly, I myself do not, for the Government decided not to publish the report. But I must say, in answer to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that I do not dissent from that decision of the Government. It was a confidential document, and it was in accordance with all our practice and that of Bechuanaland law that the Executive should decide whether to publish or not; and if the 1114 Government thought it unwise to publish the report, I do not question that decision.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have not seen it yet, although I propose to see it. However, I do not think it is very important, for a reason which I am now going to explain to your Lordships We have been told the broad conclusions. First of all, the report declared that the kgotla of June, 1949, was properly convened and conducted; secondly, it declared that, having regard to the interest and well-being of the tribe, Seretse was not a fit and proper person to discharge the functions of chief; and thirdly, it declared that Seretse's absence from the Protectorate was essential to the peace and good order of the tribe. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, will remember these conclusions. The Government clearly accepted that view, for, in March, 1950, they issued a White Paper giving, to my mind, unanswerable reasons why Seretse should not become chief. That White Paper is, indeed, the basis for the action that has now been taken, as is apparent to anyone who reads the Statement which I made on Thursday last. But even then the Government postponed the issue. They could not make up their minds finally to exclude Seretse from the chieftainship. They recommended that he should not be allowed in the Protectorate for a period of not less than five years—it was not five years, but not less than five years—except under special permission; and at the same time they banished Tshekedi also, though, in my view—I have already expressed it quite strongly—they were not justified in doing that, for he was guilty of no fault, as Seretse in his character of ruler had been.
The banishment of Tshekedi gave rise to a debate in your Lordships' House which I have no doubt most of your Lordships will remember, and in that debate I expressed some strong views, some of which have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. It has been suggested, I think by Lord Rea and by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that the views I expressed then were inconsistent with the action I am taking now. I can only conclude, if I may say so, that those who argue thus have either not really read my speech 1115 or, at any rate, have not appreciated the argument. The whole point and purpose of the speech which I then made was that Tshekedi should not have been banished, because he had committed no offence. That view I still strongly hold. Indeed, it is contrary to all ideas of British justice. But Seretse was not a private individual. He was, as I have said, a ruler, or a potential ruler, and he, as a potential ruler, had committed, I do not say a crime or an offence, but a most serious breach of all the tribal customs and traditions. That was the whole charge against him at the earlier kgotlas. He had done one of those things which a private individual might quite properly do, but which a tribal ruler simply must not do; and his marriage was likely to lead to serious future trouble, not only over himself, but even more over his children. The two cases, therefore, in my view, are not in the least analogous; I think there is all the difference in the world between them, and that is a matter which Her Majesty's Government must take into account—as in fact the late Government did. It is no good telling us now—the noble Earl did not, but somebody else may well do so in the course of this debate—that the tribe subsequently condoned the offence and that His Majesty's Government, or Her Majesty's Government now, had therefore no further concern in it. If the Labour Party think that the decision of the tribe should be conclusive now, why, I repeat, did they not take that view in December and November. 1948?
Moreover, it is manifestly untrue that His Majesty's Government, or Her Majesty's Government now, can dissociate themselves in this way. The White Paper itself says:The opinion of the tribal assembly can only be one of the factors contributing to their decision.Indeed, as your Lordships know, we are now legally bound to interest ourselves. Our position is governed by the Bechuana-land Native Administration Proclamation of 1943, and I should like to quote the words of that Proclamation to your Lordships. They are as follows:(1) on the occurrence of a vacancy the tribe assembled in kgotla should designate a successor or, if the rightful successor is a minor, designate a regent;1116(2) the name is then submitted for the High Commissioner's recognition and the Secretary of State's confirmation;(3) where any doubt arises whether the person so designated as the rightful successor is or is not a fit and proper person for appointment, the High Commissioner may direct that a judicial inquiry should be held, but the decision still rests with the High Commissioner and is subject to the Secretary of State's confirmation.That is what the Proclamation says. I would add that in this case the judicial inquiry, as your Lordships know, was held, and that inquiry declared that Seretse was not a fit and proper person to be chief. I would point out further, for the benefit of noble Lords who sit on the Benches opposite, that the Proclamation of 1943 was issued by a Government of all Parties, including the Party of noble Lords opposite.
So much for the White Paper of March, 1950. I have no complaint to make about the arguments of that remarkable document. I think they were cogent and, indeed, unanswerable as applied to Seretse, but I am bound to say that the conclusion to which those arguments led the Government were most unfortunate, for they represented in effect just one more postponement of a decision for five years more. Can the late Government really believe that a further postponement of five years was to the interest either of the tribe or of Seretse himself? If so, they must really have hoped for a miracle. It was contrary to all past experience that the prolongation of uncertainty should lead to peace and contentment. What both the tribe and Seretse needed to know was just where they stood, and that is exactly what they did not learn from the White Paper of 1950.
Now I come to the position which we found when we came into office. It was just what might have been expected. The situation in the Bamangwato territory was steadily deteriorating, and there was a general deterioration in particular in the morale of the population. That was the view that we received from all the men on the spot. As your Lordships know, in tribes like the Bamangwato the tribal system centres on the chief. When there is no chief the whole social and administrative structure tends to crumble and disintegrate. The device of direct rule by Europeans, to which the noble and learned Earl seems to attach so 1117 much importance, is, at best, in a tribe like that, a temporary expedient, and all my information is that it is a very poor one at that. In addition, it has had this effect: that the chiefs in the other areas have seen in it a threat to their own institutions. The longer that situation continued, the worse the position throughout the whole of that area was going to be. At least, that was, the opinion of all who were in a position to advise Her Majesty's Government. What were we to do? The easiest course, no doubt, was the one recommended by the noble and learned Earl—to do nothing; to let the situation drift on to the end of the five years in the hope that something might turn up, or that someone else might have to tackle the position. But my predecessor did not think that a course open to any Government with a proper sense of responsibility, and the Cabinet agreed. The situation would still continue to drift and a solution, in their view, would become more and more intractable. That would be bad for the tribe and would be bad for Seretse. The nettle must be grasped now.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that he felt sure I should make the excuse that we inherited an impossible situation. I do not think that in government any situation is impossible, but I do think that it was a situation which needed firm handling. It was therefore decided that both these controversial figures, Seretse and Tshekedi, must be debarred from the chieftaincy so as to enable the tribe to settle down and decide on a new chief who would be generally acceptable. I would say, in passing, to the noble and learned Earl, that I have every reason to believe that Sir Evelyn Baring would agree with this course. My advisers agreed that it was the best course, and they believed it would be successful. Tshekedi as your Lordships know, gave an absolute undertaking that he renounced all claims to the chieftaincy for himself and for his children, and would take no part in political activities within the area of the tribe. He, therefore, was out of the picture and, as your Lordships know, he has been allowed to go back on visits as a private individual to look after his property, and so far, by all accounts, there have been no disturbances in the tribal area. Seretse was asked to give a. similar undertaking, but up to now he has utterly refused to give 1118 a pledge to take no part in the political activities of these tribes.
I am not saying he is wrong to do such a thing. I merely state it as a fact. If he were to give as wide an undertaking as Tshekedi—and this is in answer to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt to—it would greatly ease the situation, and I do not see why he should not return at a proper time, I must say this, because I want to be frank with the House and I speak with a sense of grave responsibility. In any case, the House must recognise that the case of Seretse presents greater difficulties than that of Tshekedi. Tshekedi was only the ex-regent—he was not and is not in the direct line of succession. Seretse is the next in line. If he went back now, the chances that a new chief would be universally accepted would be indefinitely postponed. Divisions and unrest would be likely to persist. Time must be given for a new chief to be designated and, what is more, for the situation to settle down and become stabilised. Then if Seretse renounced his claim to the chieftaincy, and if he gave the assurances which are enumerated in paragraph 15 of the White Paper, I see no reason why he should not revisit the territories to look after his properties. But before that, the situation must settle down; and that, I must say quite frankly, will inevitably take time.
Now what is he to do in the meantime? It is bad for any young man to remain in London, with no settled work and living on a Government pension. That was the genesis of the Jamaican offer. It was proposed that he should go there and take up a post under the Government and make a good career in that country. It is now suggested—not by the noble and learned Earl, but as he knows, it has been suggested—that the offer was a bribe. I can assure the House that it was not intended in that way. Indeed, anyone who has talked to Seretse for five minutes would realise that on that basis it would not be likely to be successful.
Moreover it was clearly not a bribe, as it was not dependent on voluntary renouncement of the chieftaincy. Indeed, this post is still open to him for a reasonable period, though, as your Lordships know, he has refused the Government's main proposal. It was, in fact, an offer, whether right or wrong, which was kindly 1119 meant, and was, if I may say so, fully in accordance with the character and reputation of my predecessor. I only wish that Seretse would still accept it, though I must say that I do not respect him the less for refusing it. That, my Lords, is the story which I have to tell. I am sorry to have detained the House for so long, but I thought that noble Lords would like to have the full facts about a matter over which they are naturally deeply concerned.
I should like to turn for a few moments now to the main grounds of criticism of the Government's action. As I understand them, they are these. The first is the argument adduced just now by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that the action was ill-timed. I think he implied that the action could not, indeed, have been worse timed. Well, my Lords, in my experience of political life (and it is now, I am sorry to say, becoming fairly long) there is no perfect time for any difficult step. There are always good arguments that can be adduced against it, as the noble Earl would probably admit.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That may be so; but there are no good times. I remember that before the war, when my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary resigned, he received much criticism on the ground that his timing was bad. History has already proved that he was right, feeling as he did, to take the action which he took at the time he took it. Moreover, I may perhaps be allowed to say that I am bound to remark, looking at the record of the late Government, that it is clear that, for them, any time would have been a bad time for coming to a decision. Yet sometimes decisions have to be made, if greater evils are to be avoided. There is already evidence of evil effects which have been caused by the prolongation of the uncertainty of the situation in the Bamangwato area. It is said that the decision ought to have been left entirely with the tribe. I have already dealt with that, and I do not want to weary your Lordships. It has also been suggested, at any rate in another place, that the 1120 decision was taken in order to placate extremist opinion in the Union of South Africa. Now, my Lords, I can assure the House that that is not the case. As your Lordships know, there has been no communication of any kind, formal or informal, from the Union, and that is perfectly proper. But in any case I should have thought this a most extra ordinary argument. If we really had wished to help the cause of racial extremists the best way would surely have been the sending back of Seretse as chief. That would have had the effect of rallying all extremist opinion to their side and of cutting the ground from under the very feet of the moderates. The noble Earl will, I am sure, believe that the decision, as with the decision of the White Paper, was based not on external considerations but on the facts of the case.
In conclusion—if your Lordships will bear with me for a few more moments—.I should like to say a word or two on the wider issues of constitutional advance in the Bamangwato and other areas. know that it is genuinely feared in some quarters that this action of the Government represents a retrograde move. I believe that, if I may say so with all deference, to be a complete misreading of the position. My own views as regards Imperial policy in this respect are, I think, already known to your Lordships. I have often described them in this House. I have described constitutional advance as a ladder up which all the varied communities of the Empire are climbing, from the primitive peoples of the Pacific Islands at the bottom to the great self-governing countries at the top. It is our privilege and duty as a country to help the peoples at the bottom up this ladder in any way we can, taking into full account their standards of civilisation and their existing social systems. But we have got to take into account also that we must not impose on these primitive peoples utterly alien systems which they are entirely incapable of assimilating except by gradual evolution. Tribes like the Bamangwato are, as I see it, rather like our own country in very early medixval times. The whole system of government depends from the ruler, and the organs of government cluster round him like a swarm round a queen bee. That was the position in this country in early times. The Monarch had a great council 1121 of the Realm, appointed by him and subservient to him. Then, gradually, representative institutions began to acquire more and still more power; and so, with the passage of time, the whole balance of the Constitution changed. Instead of power depending from the King, it became like a pyramid, standing on the broad base of the electorate with the King at the apex.
Now it is just that Type of evolution, through legislative councils and in other ways, that I should like ultimately to see in these tribes. The White Paper, as your Lordships know, envisaged an advance in representative institutions. The late Lord Addison spoke in this House during the period of direct European rule, ofresponsibility for some of the duties normally performed by the Native Authority"—that is the chief—being temporarily transferred to a small council of leading and suitable persons as soon as they are prepared to come forward and serve in such capacity.My Lords, I do not dissent from that view; but in practice I understand that, however good the intention, this proposal has not worked. The reason is this. The Bamangwato and their allied tribes are so wedded to chieftainship as an institution that the first essential is to fill the office of chief. It is only under a chief that reforms of the nature set out in the White Paper are possible or practicable. To a lesser degree, similar reforms are desirable in the other tribal administrations in the Protectorate. The Bechuana system of chief in kgotla—which is in theory a representative gathering of all the males of the tribe—is rather unwieldy to shoulder the increasing responsibilities of local government. All the tribes would benefit by the formation under the chief, as a constitutional ruler, of small representative councils to assist in the conduct of day-to-day business, such as the running of the native treasuries and assisting the chief in his functions. But it has not been practicable to make even modest advances so long as the Protectorate was distracted by the unrest and frustrations which persisted in the Bamangwato Reserve under the White Paper policy.
Such gradual political development in the tribal administration is a necessary prelude to constitutional advance at the centre. People have to learn to walk 1122 before they can run, and the best school for representative government is local government at the district and parish council level. But, my Lords, Bechuanaland does not completely lack central institutions. There is already an African Advisory Council, composed of chiefs and leading tribal representatives. There is also a European Advisory Council. About a year ago, by the unanimous consent of both these bodies, a Joint Advisory Council with equal representation was formed, and has already met twice. These three Advisory Councils are nowadays increasingly consulted on all important matters of policy, including estimates and legislation. Their development into more responsible bodies will take time.
Finally, as a postscript to the words I have just spoken upon this subject, I should like to quote I. passage from the announcement which was made to the tribe last week. It is this:While you are considering a matter of the greatest importance—namely, the question of a new chief, you may wish that the District Commissioner should be aided in his handling of the affairs of the tribe by a council representative of sections of the tribe. If such a council could be formed the Government will give all possible help with a view to carrying out the Secretary of State's undertaking to terminate as soon as possible the temporary expedient of direct rule. by European officers. Similarly this direct rule will come to an end as soon as a chief who is acceptable both to the Government and to you is nominated and appointed.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, this is very important and I do not want to embarrass the noble Marquess; but do I understand from what he says that the wider concept of a Legislative Council for Bechuanaland (I agree that the formation of such a Council will take some time) meets with his general approval?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not rule it out at all. It is to me, as I said just now, entirely a question of the ladder. You must go up the ladder one rung after another. You cannot suddenly step up from a very low rung on to a very high rung. In principle I believe in it, but I do not pretend that it will take place in a very short time.
All this development is to the good, but the first essential of any progress in the Bamangwato Reserve, as I see it, is to encourage the Bamangwato to designate 1123 a chief who is in all respects fitted to bring about the necessary conditions for further advance. It is to achieve this result that the present policy of Her Majesty's Government is directed. It represents the view of all my advisers, and I suggest to the House that it is the policy best calculated to produce that result. This broad constitutional doctrine which I have adumbrated is one which I believe should be acceptable to all your Lordships, in whatever part of the House you sit. I would therefore end with these words. Whatever the Government in power, whoever may be the individual who happens to fill the great office of State which it is my present privilege to occupy, and whatever temporary differences may divide us, I hope that that policy will always continue to receive in its broad conception the full, united and undeviating support of your Lordships' House.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, the noble Marquess has stated what I have always understood to be a fundamental truth of this matter—namely, that in dealing with people like Africans, especially in the Southern part of the Continent, not those who are developed as they are in West Africa, one has to regard the personal relations that exist between the tribe and the chief and the chief and this country. By way of illustration of what I mean, I should like to give what I may call the story of the three Khamas. The Khama House is a very famous house in Africa. It has ruled for a long time and the great Khama, as we call him, was already Khama III. Khama III wrote to the British Queen to ask to be protected from Dutch influence. He was invited to this country, and when he went back his confidence in the British Queen was one of the pillars of British influence in Africa. The Second Khama was Tshekedi. The noble Marquess spoke appreciatively of Tshekedi. He, too, has had his ups and downs with the British Government. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, is not here to-day, because he could have told us something about an episode in which the Government acted very foolishly, and Tshekedi won in the end. It showed that Tshekedi was a true Khama: that is to say, he was a 1124 tough man, who stood up for his own people and their rights. Tshekedi is the second Khama who has gone back contented to his own country.
Now we come to the story of the third Khama. He, too, is a tough man. He is a more modern man. He comes, against the wishes of his uncle, to study at Oxford. He may not have made great progress with his examinations—and no wonder in view of the difficulties he has to go through: but he makes some progress. He becomes a Christian monogamist, and at a mission society social he meets a young lady; he falls in love with her, he marries her and he sticks to her. That is the true Khama spirit. He is in love with her and sticks to her—and she sticks to him. He is brought home, but not to be encouraged; he also asks for protection against Dutch pressure which, of course, rejects and hates a marriage of that kind. He also asks to be protected, but his reward is to be kept captive. When his own chiefs ask permission to come here to represent the case of the tribe, they are curtly told that they will not be received. "Every facility has been given to them," the noble Marquess says, but I ask whether it can be regarded as an official visit for payment purposes. These six men are coming here, at their own expense, because they want to represent the Khama case to this country, and they are going to be refused. Is that so? The noble Marquess has not replied to that?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I will reply at the end of the debate. I have replied to a good many points that have been made, but I will leave this to the end. I am not evading it.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Perhaps the noble Marquess could give a simple "yes" or "no" to settle it right away. Of course I shall have to go on without an answer if the noble Marquess does not reply now to tell us that the delegation will or will not be received—I will pause for a moment.
That is the story of the three Khamas. Those three stories show what must represent the mind of the African. The change of British policy towards the African is all supposed to be based upon the White Paper of 1950. I wish that the noble Marquess had devoted less time to explaining to the noble Lords on these 1125 Benches why these men are unfitted to be chiefs and a little more time to explaining the case of Seretse. I understand the Government's case is entirely based upon the White Paper of 1950. In the light of the knowledge that we have, I ask the noble Marquess: does he still believe in the 1950 White Paper, where the operative words are:By contracting the marriage without prior consultation and against all the advice tendered to him by the tribal authorities, Seretse showed himself to be unmindful of the interests of his tribe and of his public duty.The Paper goes on to say:There are moreover serious doubts whether he could in present circumstances retain as Chief the support of a tribe which has been inclined to factions and feuds and in which an opposition would certainly arise which would question his authority once it was certain that Tshekedi's regency would not be renewed.Are those words true to-day? Would anyone in the tribe question Seretse's chieftainship?
Let me remind noble Lords of a recent piece of evidence—namely, an interview given by Mr. Justice Blackwell in Canada yesterday. Mr. Justice Blackwell says, as reported in the The Times:The Khama's tribesmen take immense pride in his marriage, and are clamorously insistent that he return to the chieftainship.I will come back to the interview in a moment, because we have not yet touched the background of the subject to-day. We have focused on something which is not real. I assume that noble Lords have seen Mr. Justice Blackwell's interview in The Times—he is one of the members of the Supreme Court of South Africa, and is fully against the marriage. If what he said is true, what becomes of the case made by the noble Marquess, that the Government rest their decision upon a passage it the White Paper, which declares exactly the reverse.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think I may say to the noble Viscount that Mr. Justice Blackwell was a ram caught in a thicket by the noble Viscount. But the fact remains that my view, as the noble Viscount calls it, is a view held also by all those who are responsible for the administration of Bechuanaland. And I prefer their view to the isolated view of Mr. Justice Blackwell, who is merely a Judge of the Supreme Court in the 1126 Union and has nothing whatever to do with Bechuanaland.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I will not say that is a retort, but it is an answer. The noble Marquess says he takes no account of Mr. Justice Blackwell. I know nothing of that gentleman except that he is a Judge of the Supreme Court, but I should have thought that a Judge of the Supreme Court in South Africa could give an opinion as valuable as a sub-district Commissioner living in Set owe or a Resident Commissioner living in Mafeking. The noble Marquess says that this is only the opinion of Mr. Justice Blackwell, and that he prefers the opinion of a District Commissioner. If that is his answer, I have no more to say, except that in my view his case that the Government's decision is founded upon this sentence in the White Paper is seriously wed celled by what Mr. Justice Blackwell said The truth of the matter is that the whole of the White Paper of 1950 has been falsified by the course of events. If you are going to base yourself on the opinion of the tribe, your case has gone.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Would the noble Viscount have accepted the opinion of the tribe in November and December, 1948?
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I think the answer to that would be that one should ascertain the opinion of the tribe after the fullest possible inquiry and giving them the fullest possible opportunity of examining the case. Then, as I think, the Government would be well advised to go further into this case by taking the opinion of the chiefs who are coming over here. The tribe had not seen Seretse for some time, because he was studying in London, and they sent for him.
THE MARQUESS GE SALISBURY
I think that if the decision had been that favoured by the noble Viscount, he would have accepted the decision of the tribe.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
The noble Marquess says that, but if it had been in the noble Marquess's favour he would have accepted it—tit-for-tat and ya-boo! I think that, however, is a tone which is rather unsuited to the immense gravity of the issues we are discussing. The fact is that at present you will never get rest in this area until Seretse returns to his tribe. The tribe will probably never select another man. You will have constant 1127 unrest. When the noble Marquess says that the condition of the tribe is unsettled, I believe it is true to say that the real reason for that is that they feel a grave injustice has been done to them. Anyway, so far as the White Paper is concerned, if that is all the Government have to say for its case, I should think it is a poor one.
In point of fact, all this discussion, or a great deal of it, is utterly unreal. We always hear repeated in all the debates that Dr. Malan has not written to protest. Nor should we write to protest about any policy of Dr. Malan. There are certain social proprieties between the different members of the Commonwealth which we have to observe. But would the noble Marquess not say that the whole of this matter was considered by the late Government and by the present Government in the light of the setting of the Union of South Africa? It must be considered in that light. Here are people who are protected subjects. They are in the Protectorates and the Protectorates are embedded in the bosom of the Union. The Union has a form of native legislation which we detest. But it is an independent State, and the question is whether we should assimilate or try to assimilate our legislation for the natives in these Protectorates to the legislation of the Union. That is the whole case and that has always been the difficulty.
What are we to do? The noble Marquess says that we must try to please moderate opinion, as he calls it, in the Union. But on the question of black and white there is no moderate opinion in the Union.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am afraid that, unwittingly, the noble Viscount has misrepresented me. I did not say that it was our task to please moderate opinion. I said that if one had wanted to ease extremist opinion, one would have sent Seretse back, because that would have rallied everybody to his side. But I went on to say that in fact this decision, as with the decision of the late Government, was not based on experimental circumstances but on an even case. I think if we tried to do it by those methods we should be extremely foolish.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
All I am saying is that every person of any knowledge and sense knows that the whole of this question must be judged in the setting of the Union. I do not know what the answer to that can be. I do not think we can here and now decide the answer. I think the idea of the noble Marquess, of coming up to the office on a Monday, drawing up a document before lunch, sending for Seretse in the afternoon, and sacking him by tea-time, which is, of course, swift and final administration, is all wrong. He has not closed the question, but has reopened it. The question is, and always has been, not whether you can give sharp and decisive treatment to a small tribe, but whether you can make any settlement at all which is going to homologate British policy in the rest of Africa with British policy in the Reserves in the Union. That is the whole issue. Of course Dr. Malan has made no representation. That is all beside the point. The whole purpose of my few remarks is to suggest that this is an enormous issue which has to be considered in the setting of Union opinion.
Let me once again quote Mr. Justice Blackwell. I apologise for doing so, because the noble Marquess prefers the opinion of a District Commissioner. Mr. Justice Blackwell first of all condemns Seretse. He says that he has little sympathy with him and goes on to say:If you are Chief of the Bamangwato you must not set public opinion at defiance by marrying a European woman. …That, he says, is a question ofirresistible public sentiment—the sentiment of every European in South Africa"—I believe that is true—and I believe, of the majority of non-Europeans as well. Seretse knew all this. He knew the risk that he would run. He knew the problems he would create, both for his own people and for the British Government. His action was unwise in the extreme.That is what Mr. Justice Blackwell says. He sets it against the background of South African opinion. Then he goes on to say—and this is perhaps the point of the whole thing:Most of us in South Africa view with some misgivings the British experiment aimed at teaching the Negroes of West Africa to govern themselves. What would the Bantu of South Africa say and do if the West African experiment turned out to be a success?I am not taking the side of either Dr. Nkrumah or Dr. Malan. What I am 1129 saying is: Let us tear aside this veil of humbug which has covered the case of Seretse and realise that behind it all is one of the deepest and most difficult Imperial problems that we have ever had to face. My complaint is not that the Government should do this or that, but. that the Government, by their hasty and really meretricious swiftness of a week ago to-day, have not applied themselves to this problem with sufficient seriousness. What they have done is to make a decision which would appear to be taking sides. If that is true, it is very serious.
This is What the Rand Daily Mail says, in an article headed: "No solution."How far Seretse's remark that the decision was taken to placate South Africa is correct it would be hard to say.The article goes on:But it is certain that by its decision the British Government has aligned itself with the view of the present South African Government and almost all Europeans in Southern Africa that marriage between white and black is an offence to be punished with considerable severity.I say that the decision of last Monday has done more to shake the edifice of the British Empire than anything that has happened since the Boer War itself. I have very little more to add. I think this question is just beginning to be opened up. I hope that discussions will take place not on Party lines at all—though I am not ashamed of Party in any way. I belong to a Party because I believe in it. One might just as well say "there is nothing religious" about this problem. I hope that members of all political groups will apply their minds to it. What are you going to do if you come to deal with the Gold Coast? There an African is Prime Minister. He can marry a white woman. Would the noble Marquess say it was dereliction of duty if a Minister in the Gold Coast Government were to marry a white woman. Of course not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Because lie is not the ruler of a tribe which has certain vital traditions and customs. The position is quite different. I thought I had explained that in my speech. The noble Viscount must understand that. The whole of my case was based on the fact that Seretse was not an ordinary normal person. He was a ruler with obligations arid duties.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Then it will become necessary to have some sort of 1130 table of affinity or of prohibited degrees, so that we may understand when an African chief is free to pick the wife he wants and when he is not. If you are going to accept in any shape or form the doctrine of racial inferiority, that a man may not marry a woman of any colour, you will bring down the British Empire, because the British Empire now is largely the African Empire. I am not blaming the Government, I am saying only that in their pretence that they have speeded up this decision because it was necessary and because the tribe was getting restless they are bypassing the whole issue. And the issue is no less than this. In the North of Africa, and as you go down, we are trying to get recognition of a code covering Africa and the African Dominions. That is what we are doing now and what we have been doing in the past. Are you going to say that in the Reserves which are our special responsibility there are to be imposed standards which, as the newspaper says, are Dr. Malan's standards? It is a very difficult question and a very vital question to answer. You do not cover it by saying that the Labour Party were stalling for time, and that you felt bound to come to a decision in order to prevent trouble arising in the tribe.
The trouble will never be ended until this man and his wife go back. Behind the issue of Seretse is one of the biggest issues that has ever faced this country. I do not suggest a solution, but I say this about South Africa. I remember that fifty years ago, when it was very unpopular to stand up for the Boers, some of us did stand up for them. We had to stand up for them in the face of a great deal of opposition, even physical opposition. I was little more than a boy at the time but I remember it well. At the same time we were right. We were standing up for right instead of expediency. That stand which we made has given us fifty years of not unfruitful association with tile Boers. Let the Boers remember that at this time. We should recommend the Government to stand up for the right. Let it be known—and I hope it will become known to the African tribes—that in this House, at any rate, there will always be voices raised in support of their just rights.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD ISMAY
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the line taken by the noble Viscount. I saw a good many articles in the Press this morning which put a different view from that taken in the extracts which he has read out, but I have not brought any of the papers with me. My noble friend the Leader of the House has covered the whole case so brilliantly and comprehensively that my intervention is almost unnecessary. But when I was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations I spent more time on the problem that is being debated today than I did on any other single problem, and, therefore, although I cannot, alas! speak any more for the Government, I should like to give your Lordships my personal story. It will mean, I fear, repeating various things which have been said and various arguments that have been put forward in this House, but I will be as brief as possible.
Almost the first thing I did on assuming office was to address myself to this case, and, as my noble friend the Leader of the House has said, I found before very long that I had inherited a melancholy and distasteful legacy. The situation was briefly this. Seretse Khama was not to be recognised as chief for at least five years, and, after that, there was to be a review of the situation. There was nothing even to suggest—no hint of any kind—that the review might alter the position of Seretse. In addition, he was not to be allowed to return to his country: he was banished for those five years. Tshekedi, the late regent, who had not done anything wrong that I could see, was also debarred for the same five years, but he was debarred only from the Bamangwato Reserve; Seretse was debarred from entering any part of Bechuanaland, except by special permission. Finally, there was the consideration of the Bamangwato tribe as a whole; and it is, of course, the welfare of the tribe that must be paramount, though individuals may suffer.
The hope of the Labour Government—a perfectly natural hope at the time, it may be—was that, with both Seretse and Tshekedi out of the way, the tribe would settle down. That hope, alas! has not 1132 been fulfilled. All my information showed that disunity persisted, that troubles and disturbances were unabated and that there was no hope of improvement—and this is very important—until the vacuum of the chieftainship was filled. I felt that this was a problem to which there was no perfect solution; there was no solution, in fact, that would not contain features that were open to criticism—justifiable criticism. It was not an inviting prospect for a man who was embarking on his first Ministerial office. From the point of view of Party advantage, there was everything to be said for sitting tight on the decisions of our predecessors and letting the full three and a half years that remained run their course.
There was no sort of pressure, no sort of hint, from any quarter that I should do otherwise—except from my own conscience. My Lords, I am thankful that I resisted the temptation to take the line of least resistance. Had I done so, I should have looked back upon my short period of office with shame. And so I set to work at once, with my advisers, to evolve a plan which would put an end to direct rule. which would restore settled conditions in the Bamangwato Reserve and which would, at the same time, inflict the least possible hardship on the two men around whom the storm had started: Tshekedi and Seretse. It is one thing to prevent a man from becoming a ruler, but it is quite another thing—a terrible thing—to banish him from his country. So far as the tribe were concerned, the first essential was to create conditions under which the chieftainship could be restored. This was an indispensable preliminary to the formation of the African Council which it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, as it was the policy of their predecessors, to set up. But there was no hope of getting the tribe to elect a new chief so long as there was any prospect of the return of either of the two leading men, Tshekedi or Seretse.
The case of Tshekedi was comparatively simple. Of his own free will, he had renounced the chieftainship and all claims to it for himself and his successors. If, therefore, he were prepared to show by word and deed, both to the tribe and to Her Majesty's Government, that he would never again take any part in 1133 political life, it seemed to me utterly wrong to prolong the suppression of his personal liberty as a private individual for the full period prescribed in the White Paper, of which there were still three and a half years to go. Tshekedi gave that guarantee categorically and, therefore, Her Majesty's Government decided to give him progressively greater freedom of movement within the Reserve and ultimately, if all went well, to let hint reside there permanently. So far, all has been going well.
The case of Seretse was infinitely more difficult. He is a young man in perhaps the most critical formative years of his life, serving a sentence of at least five years' banishment of which three years are still to run. He is studying law, but can anyone blame him if he cannot apply himself very diligently to his studies? As the noble Lord opposite can bear personal testimony, not unnaturally he is becoming bitter and frustrated. Is that not perfectly natural? Uncertainty and the lack of security that goes with it are hard to bear, even when one is getting old, but for a youth they are catastrophic. Therefore, it seemed utterly wrong to let this uncertainty continue. The noble and learned Earl agrees to letting it run on. I did not let it run on—at least, I advised against it, because I thought it was so terribly unfair.
§ EARL JOWITT
The noble and gallant Lord said he advised against its being allowed to run on. Did he advise that knowing that a deputation wanted to meet him?
§ EARL JOWITT
And bearing in mind that next month Africans are coming over to this country to talk about Central African Federation?
§ LORD ISMAY
I was well aware of both those things. The decision about Seretse Khama had been made and I myself took part in discussing the Central African Federation proposals, and it made no difference to me that these representatives are coming next month.
I was talking about Seretse Khama and the impossibility of his position. There were two alternatives to end that uncertainty: either to send him back at once or to exclude him from the chieftainship for ever. The first alternative was ruled 1134 out, for reasons which have been explained again and again. I do not propose to go into them. The second alternative remained. And it was with great reluctance and great grief for Seretse himself that it was decided, in the interests of the tribe as a whole, to exclude him from the chieftainship for ever. But it could not be left at that. If Seretse were to be excluded from the chieftainship, it would have been cruel and callous and un-Christian not to try to do something which would help him to lead a purposeful and happy life in the interval which must elapse before he could return home as a private citizen. I asked my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he could help, and to my delight I was empowered, with the full consent of the Government of Jamaica, to offer Seretse Khama an attractive appointment in Jamaica. As I saw it, here was a chance of a fresh start, responsible work and a good position in a service which has great traditions. I offered this appointment and Seretse refused it.
Obviously he has a completely free choice in this matter and no one has any right to criticise him. But I criticise those well-meaning people who have referred to this offer as a bribe. I have always understood that a bribe is a shady transaction, under which an inducement is offered to a person on condition that he or she renders a service. There were no strings whatsoever attached to this offer. The offer is still open, and I sincerely hope that those friends who have Seretse Khama's interests really at heart will advise him to think again. I confess that what I had in mind, perhaps too optimistically, was that Seretse would he able to get away from his purposeless life in England, that after his bitter two years he would have a fresh start in new sur-roundings, that he and his wife would be able to live useful lives, that he would be able to apply to his new work those qualities of statesmanship which he must have inherited from the great house of Khama and which ate being submerged at the moment, and finally, if he so wished, that he could in his own time leave the Jamaican service and return to his home in order to serve his own country, Bechuanaland. I have put before you my whole plan as it was. I do not say it is a perfect plan—there is no perfect solution to this problem—but I 1135 have yet to know anyone who can produce a better one. I believe and pray that, when the tumult and the shouting has died down, the Bamangwato tribe will elect another chief from the Khama dynasty, round whom the tribe will rally unitedly, and that Seretse Khama, together with his uncle, Tshekedi, will find an honourable and happy life with his own people in the councils of his own country.
§ 4.59 p.m.
My Lords, I consider it iniquitious that Seretse Khama is not to be allowed to return to his own country—if not as chief then in some private capacity. He has a tremendous job to do, both politically and economically—politically, in helping the formation of a Legislative Council, and economically, in terms of agricultural improvement, and in many other ways. If suddenly one were to come out of the blue from a far country, or from some other time, it would be obvious to one that this is the situation. We have heard to-day accurate accounts of the negotiations, which have been spread over a long time, and the whole story of these is apt to be blinding. Let us try to think of what is the real issue. Furthermore, if a person like Seretse Khama chooses at some point to come to England and study at an English university, why should he not have the opportunity of going back to his own country to benefit it? What do we think we have, if we have not, for instance, education that would be of value to Bechuanaland? For the moment, I am not arguing whether he should go back as chief, but on the simple issue of whether he should be allowed to go back. I hope that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in reply, will be able to justify his case for permanent banishment, because at the moment I do not find it at all convincing. It is virtually permanent banishment, because the question of settling down will probably be far more difficult now, and will extend over a long period, possibly even a lifetime. Why should Seretse be pushed right across the Atlantic in such a situation—if this is the moral issue involved?
I was very disappointed to hear the noble Marquess's remarks about the idea of a Legislative Council. The noble 1136 Marquess is not in the House at the moment, but I should like to know whether the Government are aware that all the local leaders in Bechuanaland are in favour of the idea of a Legislative Council. After all, they are not unintelligent. Surely, the whole idea of our Empire is to move towards self-government. Why not experiment with a Legislative Council at this moment? It is not intended that it should be made up entirely of local people, but that it should be mixed. This move towards self-government is vital. To my mind, the Government's statement on this matter shows no sign of a positive and comprehensive attitude to these problems. No noble Lord on the Government side has convinced us to-day; and, as I say, there has been this general tendency to hide behind the story. There are many interpretations and many events, but let us stick to the point.
I should like to know whether, in recent times, Seretse has been personally consulted; whether he has talked with the Government; and whether they know his present plans, or his present state of maturity of outlook in regard to the problems of government in Bechuanaland. For instance, what is his attitude to his return as a private citizen? Do the Government know his attitude as to that? If they do know, have they seriously considered that as a possibility? Certainly Seretse, so far, has had no opportunity whatever of proving himself. First, there was this long period of indecision. If he does not know whether he is to go back to his own country or not, how can he properly study his country's problems? Any man would be inclined to get unsettled and worried, and would be unable to work satisfactorily in such a situation. Furthermore, in the light of this present wrong decision, how can you do anything but hope for better ideas and better feelings in this House, in another place, and in the country as a whole? The feeling in the country seems quite clear. Even Conservative feeling is something far different from what we have heard from Conservative noble Lords to-day, and Conservative papers have come out with extremely strong leaders on this issue.
There is one point which has not been mentioned—and it is probably very arguable. In one sense, is it not quite 1137 irrelevant whether Seretse married a black girl or a white girl? Is not the whole point the fact that he did not consult anybody, but showed himself—which most of us at that age were—slightly impetuous, in an undergraduate mood at an undergraduate age? In my view, it was an understandable impetuosity. I should like to know whether the Government do consider that it was irrelevant to the situation whether he married a black or a white girl. But now he has a quite marvellous chance. Do the Government know whether he is trying to seize that chance? I repeat the question: Has he been kept continually posted of the stages of these negotiations, and the advent of this Statement?
I understand that the Government do not believe in the idea of a Legislative Council for Bechuanaland in the near future. That is a matter quite apart from the Seretse issue, and it ought to be considered as a separate issue. It is an important point. We are obsessed at the moment with the whole question of the chieftainship, which has blinded us to the wider needs of Bechuanaland and all the surrounding areas. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ismay, has just said that an immense amount of his time in recent months has been spent on this very issue. It is not the only issue. It is huge, because so much hangs on it; but it is only one of many issues. What we need to do is to bypass this matter—as soon as we can get it straightened out—and concentrate on these other matters, whether they are political, like the proposal for a Legislative Council, agricultural or economic. There must be tremendous things to be done in agricultural development in the area. That will ill help to settle and stabilise the community. We should not look at the situation in terms of persons and excuses, but in terms of the situation itself, and the needs of the people.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more Oran a few further moments. I know that to mention South Africa is dangerous, but it is obvious that this situation is tied up with South Africa and South African views. After all, they are neighbours. I feel that it is very hard for a country like South Africa to take a balanced line on this matter when the white population is so much in the minority. Therefore, it seems to be especially ridiculous that the present 1138 policy in South Africa, certainly from the point of view of this country, so far as I can understand it, is not to encourage immigrants at all. It seems to me that one way in which to get a change of mood and heart in South Africa, and thereby a different attitude to Bechuanaland, would be to try and create a fifty-fifty white and black people. I believe that that is their policy towards Western Europe, but certainly at the moment it is not their policy towards us.
I was in New Zealand just before the war—this is only on the fringe of the immediate matter under discussion—and the position of the Maoris in New Zealand provides a striking contrast. The Maori in New Zealand represents one in every ten of the people. I have seen a rugger match in Auckland with two Maoris included in the fifteen. If in South Africa you could establish less fear of the situation tied up with the black and white people, that would be of great benefit; and, from the south, you could help to secure a much easier situation in Bechuanaland. That would help both the South African and the Bechuanaland point of view and policy, and it would help us to see in proportion this matter of the chieftainship, and the other matter of the agricultural and economic development of the backward areas. The whole situation is at present in cold storage. In the light of the South African situation, and of the total situation, I should like to end by quoting Field Marshal Smuts. In my view, these words sum up the whole issue:There is only one solution—and that is the solution supplied by our past traditions, the traditions of freedom self-government and of the fullest development for all constituent parts of the Empire.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, the task of anyone rising at this stage to contribute to this debate has been rendered very much easier by the extremely able and comprehensive review which has already been given by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House.. supplemented by the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Ismay. I want to look at the matter from the point of view of somebody who has been concerned for a large part of his life in that kind of administration, and to try and analyse why there has been all this fuss about the affairs of the Baniangwato tribe. We 1139 are considering against the background of Africa a tribe whose chief is a minor chief. In the ordinary course of events the succession to a minor chieftainship in Africa would be dealt with by local people under their different methods of selection, and would receive the approval or otherwise of either the Governor or the High Commissioner, according to where the territory was.
During the course of my career in the Colonial Service I have myself been concerned with several of these cases of succession to chieftainships, and although some of them concerned bigger chieftain-ships than this they did not excite this amount of trouble, even where it was necessary to differ from the view expressed at a tribal meeting. I have tried to make up my mind whether there is anything intrinsically in this case which merits its consideration by Parliament, as it has been considered in the debate we are holding to-day. The only thing which would justify some of the remarks which have been made to-day would be that some great principle was at stake, and I suggest that there is not a great principle at stake in this matter. Considerable efforts—perfectly honest efforts—have been made to prove that certain principles which are very important are concerned in this case, and no doubt in the public mind some of those principles have become involved; but I suggest there is nothing at all in the case of Seretse Khama which merits our saying that we are now deciding something which will affect the whole future of Africa—a principle either of racial discrimination or one which is intended to pacify the views of the neighbouring Union of South Africa.
Let us consider what might or would have happened if this case had been one of the cases which come before a Colonial Governor. What would have happened in 1948 would be precisely what did happen—the tribe would have held its meeting and come to a decision. From the White Paper which was published in 1950 it is obvious that the views expressed by the tribe at that time in regard to the unsuitability of Seretse to be their chief were shared by His Majesty's Government. Had that been the case in an ordinary Colonial territory, the Governor would have decided 1140 at once that there was no difficulty in coming to such a decision. I suggest—I do not wish to dwell too much on it—that the present exaggeration of this position arises from the fact that no decision was made when it should have been made, three years ago. I speak now as an administrative officer. The situation has not changed fundamentally in regard to the reasons given in the White Paper of 1950. I have read it with some care during the last day or two and I still think it is an excellent expression of the conclusions that one must reach in this matter; the only thing one does disagree with was the decision to take no action. I have never seen a more classic instance than this White Paper of the motto video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.
Leaving it at that, the Government were faced with this situation. The affairs in the tribe were deteriorating and there seemed to be no hope of getting on with the reforms that were planned until some sort of peace could be guaranteed to the tribe. I do not need to go into any detail, because your Lordships have already heard it given with greater force than I can give it. But there is no question in my mind that the decision reached by Her Majesty's Government is the correct decision, if there is to be any hope of peace and progress in the tribe. I suggest that it is not correct to say that because a council may be held. to-day and a majority of the tribe may vote in favour of the return of Seretse, the tribe would settle down. What about all the followers of Tshekedi who did not agree? It violated their views of chieftainship and it still does. We have had evidence of that, not as long ago as 1948, but in September, 1951, and the gentleman who was sent out made a report which was also published as a White Paper. At the end it is stated:There is no doubt that his active supporters"—that is, Tshekedi's—include a high proportion of the ablest and administratively most experienced members of the Bamangwato, and that their permanent exclusion from the Reserve would represent an impoverishment of the tribe.How can you expect peace and progress if those conditions are perpetuated or left in suspension?
I do not think I need add more on that particular point, but I want to emphasise 1141 that there can be no question in the mind of anybody acquainted with Africa that it is not correct to say that this decision will send a shudder through Africa. I have heard the Gold Coast mentioned and what will be thought there. I can only suggest, from the knowledge which some of us have of the way in which chiefs are being treated in the Gold Coast to-day, that Mr. Nkrumah probably lives in too large a glass house to make any comment at all on chiefs or anybody else, whether the treatment may be good or bad. It is a matter for the local decision of the people responsible. In saying that the rest of Africa will be affected by this decision, is it not the fact that we are greatly exaggerating the number of people who take an interest in these things, even in this country where there is a far more educated public opinion? I suggest that a great many of the gloomy prophecies that have resulted from this decision are no more than so much stage thunder. It is not correct to say that the world will shiver. It may be that the matter is causing more attention now because this is a decision that should have been made earlier.
There are one or two things I should like to say regarding the speech of the noble and learned Earl who moved the Motion. He said that it was desirable to have a Legislative Council, and I gathered that we should press on with that at an early date. Well, my Lords, our experience in Africa—and we have bought it at the price of many mistakes—is that it is utterly wrong to try to get progress from the top, and that a multiplication of Legislative Councils, and so forth, is really getting us no further at all in helping the African people towards self-government or towards progress in any of the other desirable things. As the noble Marquess said, this development must come from the bottom, and local government is the secret—teaching the people how to look first after the things which are well within their comprehension. To talk of having a Legislative Council at an early date in the condition in prevailing in Bechuanaland does not, to those who know something of practical administration in Africa, seem a very realistic suggestion.
I do not think I need say anything about the comparison with regard to Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama which was made in the opening speech by the noble and learned Earl, because I 1142 think it is obvious that there is no comparison whatsoever in the circumstances with which we are dealing. It is only in his capacity as potential chief that decisions with regard to Seretse have to be made. Perhaps, in passing, I may be allowed to express a certain horror at the suggestion made, also in the opening speech, that we should be treated to three years of experimental constitution-making in Bechuanaland. I can imagine nothing more calculated than that to put these people in such a state that they do not know where they are going. It seems to me, knowing as I do Jamaica as well as Africa, that the offer of a post in Jamaica was an extremely suitable and generous one; and I sincerely hope that Seretse Khania will reconsider his refusal, because I am sure that he could learn a great deal there and also lead a useful and happy life.
Now, my Lords, the situation found in the tribe to-day is exactly what any administrator would have expected to find in the circumstances. I do not know—I have not access of course, nor has the public access, to any documents—how the officers in charge then have during these periods carried on with their various activities. One can only say that the only condition in which you can have successful administration is when you have the authentic voice of leadership from the top. Now that at last we are hearing the authentic voice of leadership that has been silent so long in Colonial affairs, I believe that not a shudder but a sigh of relief will go round the world. It will be seen that at last we are prepared to shoulder our responsibilities as a nation. We should remember not only what was said by Lincoln about "government of the people by the people and for the people"; we should remember also what he said later, that men, and especially Governments, should do the right as they see the right. That, I suggest, is what the Government are now trying to do.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, if the only matters which required consideration in this case were those which the noble Lori, Lord Ismay, so candidly and sympathetically put before the House, I do not think there would be any disagreement with the decision that has been reached by the Government. But, unfortunately, there have been other matters involved from which 1143 we cannot escape. They flow from the fact that the initiating cause of all this was the marriage of Seretse Khama to a white woman. And, although the Government may say (and I do not suggest that they are not truthful in saying so) that the only considerations, which they had in mind were purely local ones, it will still be thought by Africans and by coloured people throughout the world that the decision of the British Government was based upon the idea of racial discrimination or racial segregation. It is impossible to escape from that fact, and on that account I disagree with the action which the Government have decided to take. I am concerned only with the credit of the British Government and the wellbeing of the people of the British Colonies, Dependencies and Protectorates. I do not approach this question in any partisan spirit. I did not agree with the decision to banish Seretse Khama and Tshekedi Khama from the Protectorate; nor did I agree with the decision to let Tshekedi Khama go back on certain terms and to exclude Seretse Khama from the Protectorate. I disagree with the decision which has now been taken because I believe it will have put upon it throughout the world the interpretation that it is a recognition on our part of the principle of racial discrimination and segregation.
There is no question now of the fitness of Seretse Khama himself to be chief of the Bamangwato tribe, for he has been offered an administrative post of some importance in the Colonial Service. And I accept the statement that that offer was made in good faith; that it was made because it was believed that he could fill the post which was offered to him, and that he could rise to a higher position in the Colonial Service. Therefore his intrinsic fitness to be a chief among his people is no longer in question; and the only question that remains is his marriage to a white woman. It is inevitable that it will be said that those who have objected to this marriage have done so because they consider Africans to be an inferior race. I do not accept that view that the Africans are an inferior race. I have lived among the Africans. My grandfather and two great-grandfathers were missionaries among the natives of South Africa. I lived for two years on 1144 a mission station, with no other white family anywhere in the neighbourhood, and I know what these people are. It is true that they are backward, because they have not the education and because they are handicapped by the difficulty of language, since their own language is a primitive one which has not the tools by which people can think about complicated or scientific questions. But, given the opportunity, they can make use of it.
Perhaps noble Lords will pardon me for this reminiscence, but it is now about a century ago since my great-grandfather sent home to Edinburgh to study at the university his two sons and a young African called Tiyo Soga, who received a good education there, who became a scholar in Greek and Hebrew, and was one of the translators into the Xhosa language of the Bible. That man, after being educated in Scotland and being ordained as a clergyman, married a Scottish wife and went back to work among his own people. So that marriage of an African to a white woman is nothing new. He was of a distinguished family. He went back to work among them, and in spite of being married to a white wife he worked among them successfully. Racial discrimination was not a barrier to that. This man had a son, who qualified as a doctor and who volunteered for service in the First World War. His offer was rejected by the War Office because of his coloured blood. That is where the racial discrimination arose. I hoped that we had got long past that kind of thing. I do not say that this is a motive which has influenced the Government in this case. I accept that they were influenced by merely local considerations.
There are, however, very much wider considerations at issue in this matter, and it is on that account that I regard the step which has been taken as a mistake. As I have said, the Africans have the ability to advance themselves if they are given the tools of learning by which to do so. That involves that a certain number of them will come to Europe and will study in European universities, in order that they may go back to help raise the standard of life and education of their own people. It will inevitably happen in some cases that they will marry white wives. Let us face these facts. That is bound to be the case, and we must leave 1145 them to discuss this problem with their own compatriots arid solve it; we must not interfere with them and make ourselves appear as if we were the partisans of a white superiority. I know, and everyone of us knows, that the noble Marquess who now holds the office of Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is a man of honour and of sympathy. I hope that he will look at it from this point of view. As I say, I deplored the original decision to exclude Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama from the Protectorate, but at least it was a step which was not irrevocable. I hope that the Government will yet think about this matter and that they will at any rate see the representatives of the tribe and discuss this matter with them, because it is very important that we should not give the impression that we are acting in an arbitrary fashion and that we are not paying due attention to native opinion.
What has been the result of all this controversy? It may very well be the case that in the beginning Seretse Khama's fellow tribesmen were disturbed at his breach of etiquette and were against him. But they are now practically united behind him. The more they regard him as the victim of in interference between Seretse and his tribesmen, the more they will rally behind him, because that is only human nature. That is what we should do if people belonging to our own country were subject to something which we thought was an outside interference with their rights. So I beg the Government, in all seriousness, to consider the repercussions of this event in many other fields besides the narrow territory of the Bamangwato tribe.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD AMMON
My Lords, now that we have heard the conflicting statements and the recital of all that led up to the present position, I suppose some of us feel very much like Omar Khayyam:… but evermoreCame out by that same door wherein I went".There are one or two salient points that I feel should not be lost sight of in the discussion now proceeding. In the first place, I think it will have to be admitted that there cannot be any particular blame on either political Party, for both are to blame for the position in which we now find ourselves. Probably, procrastination has helped to make the position even 1146 worse to recover from than it otherwise would have been. What is apparent, first of all, apart altogether from the original cause of the trouble—namely, the marriage of Seretse Khama to a white woman—is the fact that there is a chief whom the whole tribe are now behind. He has been exiled. The noble Marquess has said that, so far as he is concerned, and, he believes, the Government, there is no question in which they are actuated by the South African policy. But we cannot get away from the fact that it must have some influence on the matter, and the various utterances quoted here by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and utterances in the Press are evidence that there is, distinctly, a colour prejudice in the whole question.
Then, whether we like it or not, there has been aroused an amount of opinion in this country very unusual in questions of this sort, and there is strong public opinion on this matter which has to be met. It is no good anybody in this House trying to say that it can be solved and let slip out of mind by trying to ignore the fact. It cannot. There is a world-shaking problem at the basis of it all. Let us face the fact that, in the present condition of the world, cases in which there appears to be division in the nature of a colour bar will, and do, have far-reaching effects, and will stir up problems difficult to solve or to quieten down. Our enemies will make very much of this. They will be able to say much again about the hypocrisy, and so on, of the British people; and the story will not lose anything in the telling. Therefore, it is of great importance that, if possible, some solution should be found to this problem.
I am bound to say that one could not but admire, and to a large extent be influenced by, the statement of the noble Marquess; but there are one or two things that stand out. There is one particular point that was put to him by the noble and learned Earl who opened the debate when he raised the question whether anything could be done about receiving the deputation. Apart altogether from the questions involved in this matter, I must say that it was a rather, shall I say, foolish step to refuse to receive the deputation. Everybody knows that when a question of difficulty arises, half the grievance goes if you receive the people concerned and discuss it with 1147 them. That alone would. I think, have made a very great impression, and I hope that even now the noble Marquess will reconsider the matter. It will be no loss of face to him; rather will it raise his already very high status. Whatever may be the result after he has received the deputation, it will at least ease the situation among the tribes and persons concerned. I trust that for that reason alone he will give consideration to that point and decide to meet this deputation which is coming over here. I hope that he will not insult them (because that is what it really amounts to), by not seeing them, but will treat them as reasonable beings who have come to state a case, and will listen to it. I am sure that such a course will do a good deal to smooth over and make easier the very difficult situation which now exists.
There is very little more that one can add to what has already been said in regard to this very difficult case. One does feel certain that a great deal of mischief has been done. In the present state of Africa and of other countries, and taking into consideration the present number of enemies of this country, this is not a good thing for us, and in the eyes of the public and the world it will do us no good and will help to lower the esteem in which we are held.
§ 5.42 p.m.
My Lords, like the Liberal Party I can claim to have a consistent record in this matter. Both other Parties, I trust, will excuse me if I think that neither of them have. However, it is not my intention to-night to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. Nor is it my intention to go into the rights and wrongs of this extremely complicated problem, all of which have, I think, been extremely well and fluently expressed on both sides of the House. I rise merely to express a deep anxiety about how the Government's present proposals are likely to work practically. We have heard to-day of the failure to establish native councils. The noble Marquess and other speakers have attributed this (I think the noble Lord, Lord Ismay, said the same thing) to the lack of a chief. They suggested that a chief was the essential, and, indeed, the only kingpin around which 1148 native councils and native administration could and should be built up.
I suggest that the failure in the last two years, during this period of direct rule, has not merely been due to the lack of a chief but has been essentially due to the lack of the chief. The Administration has failed to obtain co-operation from the Bamangwato, who have with increasing unanimity demanded the return of Seretse Khama. If this is so, my Lords, what is the prospect? When the Government have deposed Seretse Khama they will then have to persuade these people to elect another chief. If they do not persuade them to do so, what is to be the next step? I believed (and my belief was confirmed by reading the Statement of the noble Marquess; therefore I now believe with certainty) that it is impossible for the British Administration to nominate a chief. I fancy that a chief must be elected by the kgotla, and whilst he can be rejected by the British Administration another chief cannot in fact be nominated by the Administration. The Government, therefore, are in the hands of the people themselves, and they must choose a chief. I am profoundly doubtful, on reports that I have received during this period, whether the Government are likely to get the co-operation of the Bamangwato in the choice of a chief.
My Lords, that seems to me to be really the basic problem. The Government decline to accept the chief whom the tribe want. Frankly, I am somewhat at a loss to understand quite what their objection now is. If the proposition were put to me, whether the interest of the tribe must be paramount to that of an individual, obviously I should say that the tribe's interest must come first. But, let me say, here and now, that I am always doubtful about claims of the State which entail the abrogation of the rights and liberties of its subjects. It may happen and I cannot deny the superior claim, the priority of the State, but it is always with the deepest anxiety that I allow the interests of human beings to be subordinated.
In this particular case what is now the position? The Under-Secretary of State in another place questioned whether the percentage was quite so high in favour of Seretse as one or two speakers had said. He did, however, admit quite freely, as indeed the noble Marquess 1149 himself has admitted to-day, that the tribe is now, if not unanimously at any rate by a very substantial majority, in favour of receiving Seretse as their chief. If, therefore, Seretse were to go back now as chief, wherein would the tribe suffer? The tribe is asking for him, and it seems to me that that is really the true solution of this problem. It may have been mishandled by one Party or another in the past, but if the interests of the tribe are to prevail, then I believe that they could best he served at the present time by the return of Seretse to the tribe which requires him. However, my Lords, if Her Majesty's Government cannot accept that view—I confess that on the facts I cannot understand exactly what their objection is—I suggest to them that the only means by which they can possibly obtain the ends at which they are aiming is by the co-operation of both Tshekedi And of Seretse Khama. I believe that only by this means can the Government bring their policy to fruition.
I am doubtful whether the noble Marquess was right when he said that at the present time it would clearly be impossible for Seretse to return to the Protectorate, that time must lapse while a new chief became established. My Lords, I believe that were Her Majesty's Government to obtain the consent and co-operation of Seretse in the choice and selection of a new chief, then, so far from his absence being essential, his presence in the Protectorate might well be extremely useful. I believe that a great injustice has in fact been done. I believe that a very serious mistake has been made. I fear for the results in our Colonial Empire. But I do hope that Her Majesty's Government may be able to find a successful issue out of this difficulty.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, like my noble friend who has just spoken, I wish to detain your Lordships for only a few minutes. I think we can all agree that the debate which we have had to-day has been well worth while. This is a matter of supreme importance, and one with which we cannot deal lightly, and I think that the speeches from both sides of the House have shown a high sense of responsibility. The noble Marquess said that there was no perfect time for coming to a decision. Decisions have to be made if 1150 great evils are to be avoided. I think the decision which has been come to is a hasty one, an unfortunate one, and one which may lead to great repercussions throughout the whole of the native Colonies of this country. I understood that my noble friend Lord Ammon was advocating that the decision should not have been come to prior to the reception of the delegation which is likely to arrive in this country within a few days' time. I think the counsel he gave your Lordships was good. It would have been far better if the matter had not been finally settled until the delegation had had a chance to consult with Her Majesty's Government.
There are one or two points which have arisen during the course of the debate, to which I wish to refer and upon which I shall pose a few questions to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. My first question—and perhaps the noble Marquess will be able to give us a reply—relates to his remark to the effect that last week a message went out to the tribe suggesting that they should form a council amongst themselves to co-operate with the Commissioner in regard, I think, to the holding of a kgotla and the (loosing of a new chief. I am wondering whether that invitation has yet been accepted, or whether Her Majesty's Government are still waiting to see what is the position. There is another question which has not been fully brought out. The noble Marquess has already said that there was no consultation with the Union of South Africa. I should like to know whether any consultation has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and other members of the Commonwealth in coming to the decision which has, in fact, been reached. The decision, in my view, certainly bears relationship to the position of the West Africans, the Indians and others of our native races, and it being, as I think, essentially a matter for Commonwealth discussions, I should like to know whether any discussions have, in fact, taken place.
The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, referred to the question of the new chief and whether it would be, acceptable for the tribe to reinstate Seretse or Tshekedi. I am wondering whether the noble Marquess can give me some information as to the position. Suppose the tribe, as has been suggested, are not prepared 1151 to co-operate with the British Government, and refuse to hold a kgotla or to appoint a new chief other than Seretse. What the position would be in those circumstances is, it seems to me, a little obscure. Perhaps the noble Marquess will tell us what the reactions of Her Majesty's Government would be if a situation such as that were to arise. Then there is another possibility: a son may be born to Seretse. As Seretse is chief in direct line of succession, what would be the position of that son if, in the future, he should claim title to the chieftainship of the tribe? That is a point which may not arise at all, but, on the other hand, if it did, then a question might arise of the father of the child, or some other blood relation, being appointed as regent, as I believe has happened before.
I wish to conclude on a note of caution. I think that this matter should be reconsidered. As I said in my opening remarks, it is a matter of supreme importance, one over which we cannot skip lightly, because, in the years to come, we may have every reason to regret the decision which has been arrived at in the last few days by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, I counsel reconsideration. Even at this time the Government might well explore every avenue whereby we may obtain a peaceful settlement in the tribe of the troubles which have occurred—they may seem small ones compared with great events which are happening in the world at the moment, but they are troubles which may in the future mean much, not only to the black peoples of the world but to ourselves as well. I therefore hope that the Government will—if I may use the phrase—take this matter back for reconsideration. I trust that they will see the delegation which is coming, and will make some alteration or amendment in their decision.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, as I am a joint president of the Anti-Slavery Society, I think I should make it clear that what I have to say does not necessarily represent the views of the committee of that Society, whom I have had no opportunity of consulting since this debate was arranged. As the late Lord Noel-Buxton gave us such great help in the Society, I should like to say that I thought the speech of his son to-day 1152 echoed completely the noble views which his father entertained on these subjects.
I heard it said in the course of the debate to-day that no great matter of principle, no vital matter of principle, was involved in this unhappy affair. I must say that I can think of no greater matter of principle than is involved in this, since it is a matter of pursuing policies which will keep the great masses of Africans attached to us. If there is any matter of more importance than that to-day, I should very much like to be told what it is. I have tried to inform myself, so far as I can, of some of the basic facts involved in this matter. One of them has not been brought out in the course of the speeches to-day. It is this. I understand that it is the dynastic law of the Seretse Khama family that the heir can marry only with the consent of the tribe given at a kgotla, when the reigning chief pronounces his decision upon the views and wishes of the tribe. Now, as I understand it, this was not a case of Seretse Khama falling in love with a white lady, being carried away by his emotions and then encountering difficulties of which he was in ignorance. I believe he was warned of this law when he was a young man—even when he was at school. At any rate, he was certainly informed later by his uncle and by the Dominions Office; so that in doing what he did he faced the family law and tribal disapproval with his eyes open. He knew what was involved, but still he went through with it.
And what was the result? I find this part of the story very difficult to follow. First of all, at a kgotla the tribe refused to consent to the marriage. It seems to me that we could then have stood both on the family law and on the tribe's refusal, and have said at that time: "You can never be chief of your tribe: that matter is settled here and now." But, later on, the tribe assented to the marriage, withdrawing their original refusal. At that time, it seems to me, we could have said: "Very well; your tribe agree. Then you may go back and be chief." If we took the tribe's refusal as a reason for his not being chief, surely we should take their acceptance of the marriage as a reason why he could have been chief. Instead, we temporised and decided upon banishment for five years. with a promise to reconsider at the end of that time.
1153 This afternoon, we have heard two different views expressed about what constitutes statesmanship. I confess that I am not on the side of those who believe in playing for time, in what I call Micawberism in statesmancraft. I know of two instances of disastrous results following from that idea—first, in the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles about the Saar, and secondly, in the Government of India Act, which provided for reconsideration of certain matters in ten years' time. Both these postponements led to great trouble in the long run. When we temporise in this way and put off a decision for a period of years, all that happens is that the intervening period is spent in the fiercest propaganda and is likely to land us in far greater trouble than the situation from which we began.
What was it that was to change in the course of these five years of banishment? The marriage had taken place a daughter had been born; the tribe had decided to accept the marriage—and in what way were the conditions to change? I understand now that Tshekedi acknowledges that Seretse is chief of the tribe, but raises the point that Seretse's child cannot succeed to the chieftainship. But that question will not arise for some considerable time and, meanwhile, the tribe can consider the matter and perhaps alter their present state of mind, as they did about the marriage. If the tribe wish to do so, they can alter the law about the child's succeeding. It is true that if they wished to alter the law, we have the power to approve or disapprove the alteration, but in view of the lesson we have already learned from this affair, I think we should hesitate long before we disapproved of such an alteration in the law.
I am bound to say I agree with noble Lords who have said that the action taken in this matter is a strange commentary upon the fact that in Colonial matters we always say that self-government is our aim. If we were really true to the promise of self-government, then I think, once the tribe had approved, we should have been wise to let Seretse go back as chief. What is the position to-day? The Government clearly cannot rescind their decision. Can a future alternative Government rescind it? One Government has banished the man and another has deposed him. If no potential alternative Government is prepared to advocate the rescission of its 1154 predecessors' decision and allow Seretse to go back, I think we have to agree that a definite decision is far better than no decision at all. Without a decision, the tribe will never settle down, and we do not want to get this unhappy tribe into the position of the steel industry, which is to be alternately nationalised, denationalised and renationalised.
I feel that there is great wisdom in what has been said about the next in succession becoming chief. In that case, one would hope that Seretse would be encouraged not to resist but to assist the new chief. I agree with what has been said about taking steps to establish a Legislative Council when the new chief takes over. I have had some experience of trying to govern a Colony without a. Legislative Council and I can assure the House that it was a most unhappy experience. I hope that that advice will be listened to. The noble Marquess spoke of going up the ladder one rung at a time. If one is active, one can go up the ladder two or three rungs at a time. Does the noble Marquess always go upstairs one step at a time? Some of us take two or three stairs in our stride. To establish a Legislative Council and a complementary Executive Council would be a step very much in the right direction. Of course, there has been an Advisory Council in Bechuanaland since before 1923.
I come to my final point. What is Seretse Khama to do at this moment? Here I must say how strongly I resent suggestions made outs de that this offer of a job in Jamaica was in the nature of a bribe. It could have borne a resemblance to a bribe only if the offer had been in these terms: "If you will renounce the chieftainship, then you will be given a position in Jamaica." But I understand the offer was made in these terms: "Whether you renounce the chieftainship or not, the position is open to you." And that offer still stands at the present moment. What is Seretse to do? We must eventually allow him to return home as a private individual. After all, he has property there and I do not see how we can treat him worse than Tshekedi. If a successor is to be appointed, and if that successor makes good and proves himself acceptable to the tribe, then I should say that any possibility of Seretse being a source of trouble would not arise.
1155 I am sure that direct rule during Seretse's banishment has been a bad thing. Direct rule disrupts the whole tribal system and so destroys the chance of establishing local government through that system, which ought eventually, of course, to merge into a more democratic system. At present, however, the time is not yet ripe for such a system. Something has been said about the African deputation and the decision of the Government that they shall not be received. I think that is sometimes a difficult question to decide. One's natural instinct is to say, "Let everybody of responsible and authoritative position have a chance of speaking his mind," but I can think of one instance where Government policy was completely upset through the receiving of a deputation which ought not to have been received.
This is a lamentable business, and I am afraid that there is no burking the fact, which has been stated by more than one noble Lord, that in certain cases a coloured face is a disability. I fear that the Government's decision is bound to be regarded as a victory for anti-Africans. It will be difficult to prevent the thought that there was a shadowy third present in these deliberations, although I must accept what the noble Marquess said, that such had not been the case. But the noble Marquess will find it very difficult indeed to disabuse people's minds of that belief. Though I recognise the point the noble Marquess made about the difference between a ruling family and a Prime Minister, there are many people who find it strange that we claim it as a great triumph of British policy to have appointed an African Prime Minister in the Gold Coast, while at the same time we are sending a chief away because he has married a white wife. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, said about the de-stooling of chiefs going on in the Gold Coast at the present moment. But the noble Lord will know that there have been, if not scandals, at any rate good grounds for complaint about some of these chiefs. It is on those grounds that this process of de-stooling of chiefs is going on in the Gold Coast. In conclusion, I would say only that if this decision is to be adhered to, I feel that anyone who advises Seretse to oppose it, and to go through life with 1156 a chip on his shoulder, will be a bad friend to him; and resistance will not only be bad for Seretse himself but will also be very bad for the tribe of which he was at one time chief.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD SHERWOOD
My Lords, I should like to say just a few words on a short point. I think it has been made clear, not only in this House but outside, how important this matter has become, not only from the South African point of view but also from the point of view of the way in which the Governments, both from this side and from the other side of the House, have dealt with the matter. Whether the late Government were right or wrong in regard to the five years' bar, there is no doubt what has happened. I was somewhat convinced by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, but the noble Lord, Lord Ismay, did not convince me at all. He said quite definitely that he had started this business himself. That is breaking a pact in a unilateral way. Seretse had done nothing. He abided by the terms laid down by the Labour Government. But suddenly the present Government have come to a decision and we have now two cases before us. That is what happens when you unilaterally break an agreement, a treaty, or whatever it may be: it does not bring credit to the Government, and it worries the people. This is another case. Seretse has done no wrong, but he is now further punished by the present Government. I am not one of those who say that there was a bribe attached. I deplore such statements. Of course this Jamaican offer was not a bribe. But is it not rather like (or shall we not be accused of it?) sugaring the pill? This is another job. But, so far as I have heard from noble Lords on the opposite side of the House, there is no reason to believe that his knowledge of Jamaica is so great that he is necessary there. It does not give a feeling of confidence in the handling of the colour question at this time. Disgruntlement is in everyone's mind, and this is a matter that should be aired and carefully considered by your Lordships' House.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, so much has been said this afternoon on this subject that I want to put only two short points to your Lordships. My noble 1157 friend Lord Wise talked of the latest decision of the Government as a hasty decision. In my view, that well describes it, because it was only on December 6 last that the Under-Secretary in another place said that the decision of Her Majesty's Government—that is, to permit Tshekedi Khama to return—did not preclude revision of Seretse's banishment before the five years had expired. That was only three months ago, and I feel that much of the shock that the latest announcement has given is due to its coming unexpectedly, as a bolt from the blue, with no evidence preceding it that would justify an emergency decision of this sort. I suggest that if conditions in the Protectorate in recent months have become so bad that urgent action is required, that is due to the action of the Government in allowing Tshekedi Khama to return ant in announcing that he would be free to enter the Reserve in order to look after his own interests. Certainly he gave an ass trance that he would not take any part in politics. But even before, his renunciation of the chieftainship made little difference to the opinion held in the tribe; it did not remove the suspicion and dislike in which he was held. Neither, I believe, has his latest guarantee to abstain front all political activity, because only in the month of January the representatives of the Tribe in an interview described him to the High Commissioner as their enemy. That opinion was well known to the Government from the report of the observers sent out by Parliament last summer.
Any of your Lordships who have read that report will realise the intensity of the feeling among the Bamangwato people on the subject. The cases of Tshekedi and Seretse were linked in the minds of the tribesmen. They said: "We will not have Tshekedi back before Seretse." But Her Majesty's Government have now flouted both those expressions of opinion. If there is now unsettlement and. discontent in the tribe, I suggest that it is due mainly, if not entirely, to the return of Tshekedi and to the threat that from sporadic visits to look after his interests he will be promoted to longer visits, and eventually to permanent residence. That it what has aroused such deep suspicion among the people. They say—it was said repeatedly to the observers—that a man like Tshekedi Khama, second in succession to the chieftainship in the tribe, cannot possibly live among them as a 1158 private citizen. I know that the Government do not take that view, but there it is. For them to defy these strongly held feelings of the people seems to me to invite trouble.
There is one further matter I should like to mention—namely, the non-reception of the deputation coming from the Bamangwato Reserve. We have all prided ourselves for generations that the British Empire is founded and kept together, not by machine guns or by a system of force, but by a system of trust. There is a mutual trust on the part of the peoples governed in the fairness and the justice they will get from the governing, power. Always running through the thread of relations between primitive peoples, non-self-governing peoples, and this country has been the sort of lifeline that in the last resort, however they may feel they are ill-treated by the local officers, or however strongly they may feel about anything, there is an appeal to the highest authority. I would not set up against the noble Marquess as an authority on Colonial history, but I should be very surprised if to refuse a delegation of responsible people is not a very unusual thing.
These are the leaders of the Bamangwato and their allied tribes numbering at one time, I believe, eleven. Some of them are of the Khama family itself—men who have the full trust of their people and, indeed, of the Government, too, because they are constantly called in as the tribes' representatives to consult with the officials. When these people say that they want to come and lay their case before the Secretary of State, there is surely no justification in refusing them Whether or not there is anything which can be granted in their request, or whether or not there is anything new that they can tell the Secretary of State, is irrelevant. What matters is that they should feel that they can have the ear of the Government and the Secretary of State in their troubles—and they are deeply troubled in this tribe. I would urge the noble Marquess to reconsider this question and to give an interview to these entirely reputable representatives of the Bamangwato people.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I have thought it better, by the leave of the House, that I should speak at the end of this debate as well as at the 1159 beginning; for the subject is one which is entirely the concern of my own Department and I am, I suppose, more likely than other Ministers to be able to answer the questions of detail which have been raised during our discussions. As a matter of fact, I do not think there are many questions about which I need say much more. They were dealt with fairly fully in my earlier speech and in other speeches which have come since. There are, however, one or two points to which I should like to reply.
There was one question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton. He asked whether Lord Ismay and I, or Lord Ismay or I, had had talks with Seretse Khama about the terms of his return. As a matter of fact, there were several talks. I think I am right in saying—Lord Ismay will correct me if I am wrong—that he had the original talk as far back as last November, or anyhow towards the end of the year.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. Anyway, Lord Ismay and I did have two talks quite recently, before he went out of office, and again after I came into office. This particular subject was discussed in the course of the conversations. I was quite clear, and I think Lord Ismay was, too, that Seretse was not prepared to give up all political activities. In that respect his attitude was different from that of Tshekedi.
I was not suggesting that he ought to have to give up political activities as a private citizen if he did not go back as chief.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think it would be practicable for him to go back not as chief and take a large part in political activities. The same condition was put to Tshekedi and he was willing to give the undertaking which was asked for. We had hoped that Seretse might be willing to do the same. Mind you, my Lords, in what I say I am not blaming Seretse. He had a perfect right to say whatever he liked in these conversations, or to come to any decision he liked. I am merely stating the fact.
§ LORD ISMAY
I am sorry to interrupt. I did see Seretse in November, when I had quite a long interview with him. The 1160 question came so quickly that I had forgotten it. I was concentrating on the last two very long conversations.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am glad that I was correct in what I said. Even if he gave these undertakings—and I hope he may—I think it would be necessary that there should be some considerable delay before he actually went back into the area, because the new chief must be designated and the situation must be stabilised. That, I am sure, would be agreed by anyone who knows the area.
There was a further question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton. He asked: Why not have a Legislative Council for Bechuanaland now? I was not here when he asked that particular question, but it was reported to me. The answer is that, in the opinion of everybody who knows the area, they are not ready for such far-reaching measures of self-government immediately. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, who spoke to your Lordships this afternoon, has a very long experience of Africa and gave that as his convinced view.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess again, but is he aware that most of the leaders of the tribe—if not all of them—are themselves keen that there should be a Legislative Council?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There are a great many people who are keen to have things for which they are not quite ready.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
We ourselves are a full-fledged democracy and are proud to be so, but it has taken us seven hundred years to get there, and I am not always certain that we manage it very well now. To try to rush these people into a system which would be so alien would be, I believe, to court disaster. It must take time. The great thing is that they should take the first steps early, and that these, what one may describe as infant steps in democracy should be taken in the sphere of local government. We are trying to arrange that. I do not think there is any difference of opinion between us and noble Lords 1161 opposite in that matter. The question of pace in constitutional advance is always a difficult one, and I do not pretend that I am a person to pontificate about it. But I am quite certain that to attempt to go too fast would defeat its own object.
The noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, raised one point. He said that he was rather shocked at what he called the breaking of the pact between the late Government and Seretse. There was no pact at all. This was a Cabinet decision as to the future of Seretse. Seretse did not accept it. He wanted to go back immediately.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
You cannot break something that does not exist—I am sure that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, would agree with me over that. The noble Lord is under a complete misconception. It is perfectly true that an alteration has been made by the White Paper policy, but that is because, rightly or wrongly, Her Majesty's Government found that the arrangement which had been made by the late Government—I am sure with the best intentions—was not working out well in practice. Therefore we felt obliged to take a more definite step than they were prepared to take. But there was no pact.
Then there was the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, who said that Tshekedi Khama could not live as a private citizen in the Bamangwato area. The noble Earl said that was the information he had received, and he accepted it. All I can say is that Tshekedi has given an absolute undertaking that he will; and surely he must be given a chance of making good that undertaking. If we had not accepted Tshekedi's undertaking, what would be the position of that man? We should be condemning to permanent exile a man who had done nothing wrong at all—a marl who has not even committed the fault which Seretse has committed. I am bound to say that that is not a prospect which I should welcome with any enthusiasm.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked what would be the position if the tribe insisted upon Seretse as their chief. Well, my Lords, I agree, of course, that it would be a most unfortunate position; but I do 1162 not think there is any reason to expect it. The view of our advisers is that the tribe will rally round a new chief. I hope that neither noble Lords nor anyone else will say anything to make that result more difficult, or it will surely lead to further trouble. It would be much better if the noble Lord followed the wise advice of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and urged the tribe to turn their attention to the future and to try to find a new chief.
Finally, my Lords, there is the question of the delegation now starting to London. I expect that that is really the question to which noble Lords opposite want an answer. I should say at once that no difficulty has been put in the way of their coming. They have been given their passports at once. But my predecessor took the view that there was no advantage in his seeing them, and I must say that on merits I share that view. If there were any completely new factors which had to be considered, that would be a different matter; but, in fact, it is not suggested that there are any new factors. It is not correct, if I may say so, to suggest that the views of the adherents of Seretse are not already well-known. They are perfectly well-known and have been known from reports of officers for weeks and months. Every aspect of this melancholy question has been examined and re-examined over a period of years, and every conceivable argument which has been reported by the officers of the Government on the spot has been taken into account by the Government in arriving at their decision.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, seemed to think that there were no normal channels of information and that it would therefore have been better if the matter had not been settled until the delegation came to London. But surely anyone who has had experience of the Commonwealth or Colonial Office knows that one of the main duties of Her Majesty's Government's representatives on the spot is to make constant reports of the state of opinion in the areas for which they are responsible. In matters of this kind one, must, above all, in my view, avoid the danger of creating any impression that the Government can be "chivvied" into altering their policy. Any idea of that kind would have a most unfortunate effect throughout Africa, Moreover, I do not think it is wise to short-circuit 1163 one's representatives on the spot. It gives an impression of lack of confidence in them, and as a matter of fact, I have every confidence in them. In my view, too, it is vital that there should not be any impression of vacillation or hesitation. It is not by vacillation or hesitation that one can hope to govern a great Empire.
But if, in spite of all that has been said, these people persist in coming. I am prepared, as a matter of courtesy, to see them and to hear what they have to say. Frankly I cannot, and I should not wish to, hold any hopes that they will make me alter my decision. I believe, however, that some valuable purpose might be achieved by my seeing them if I could encourage them to face up to this new position and rally round a new chief.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps, in conclusion, I may be allowed to tell your Lordships a story of what happened to me, by chance, only yesterday—it has a bearing on points raised to-day by the noble Lords, Lord Faring-don and Lord Wise, and by other speakers. I was down in the country and a clergyman in the parish asked whether he might bring to see me a man who was staying with him for the week-end. When they arrived, I found that the man was an African—not a white African, but a native of Africa, who had come over to visit this country. He was clearly a good and sensible man. I thought I would ask him what was his view about Her Majesty's Government's decision on this difficult and vexed question, and this was his answer: "The decision was right. Seretse could not return as chief: it would have been entirely contrary to the rules and customs of the tribe. For me it would have been quite all right to marry a white woman. But Seretse is a ruler, and rulers cannot do what others can. By strict tribal custom he could not even choose his own wife; she had to be chosen from certain families of their own race and must be approved by the tribe. It is only from these families that the new chief can be begotten. The mother is as important in that respect as the father. That is the immemorial custom which cannot be broken, and to try to break it would lead to trouble without 1164 end." That, my Lords, was the view of an intelligent and educated African and I submit it to you as such. It confirms the advice which I have received from my advisers.
My Lords, I do not complain for one moment that the noble and learned Earl should have raised this subject this afternoon. We all have a deep concern for individual liberty. But there are other principles too, deeply rooted, especially among primitive peoples, which a Government with Imperial responsibilities has to take into account. Delay, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said, would not have got us out of our difficulties. It would only have made them worse. It is these varying considerations that we have tried, with the best will, to balance in coming to our decision, and I submit that decision with confidence to the judgment of your Lordships' House.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. It is an exceedingly valuable thing that this matter has been ventilated. I think the noble Marquess, in what he has just said, has gone some way to allay doubts and anxieties. In this succession of blunders—as I think—matters would have been made very much worse by a refusal to listen to what these people had to say. I think they would have regarded it as being a direct insult. Much good may come of the fact that they are to be seen. I hope that, since what has been done has been done, the tribe will prove cooperative and will endeavour to select some person as their chieftain. I am bound to say that, if I had any influence, I should use it on that side. I anticipate, quite frankly, that you will have the greatest difficulty at the present time in getting any chieftain to act with any sort of authority. I still believe that it may be necessary to enlist the support and co-operation of the supporters of Seretse and Tshekedi. If it is found that I am right, and there are difficulties about getting a new chief, I ask that the Government should not eliminate from their minds the possibility that they might obtain the help and collaboration of Tshekedi and Seretse Khama. Keep that, if you will, in reserve.
I heard the noble Marquess say at some length that the Labour Government were very much to blame in 1948. Perhaps 1165 we were. Frankly, I do not remember the circumstances well enough to argue it—it was not, of course, my Department—but let us assume that in 1948 or in 1949 we lost an opportunity that we ought to have taken. The question which remains confronting us is what we will do today in the situation which, I agree, is a very difficult one. It is a situation which is bound to have its repercussions on an area far wider than this particular Reserve or this particular tribe. I am grateful to the noble Marquess for the care and trouble he has 1166 taken in helping us in this debate, and to all noble Lords who have spoken. With your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.