HL Deb 18 December 1958 vol 213 cc472-80

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, I should like to make a statement on constitutional discussions which I have been having with the Basutoland nation. On November 18, 1958, I began discussions with the delegation from the Basutoland Council, led by Professor Cowen, of Cape Town University, on the proposals for constitutional reform and of chieftainship affairs contained in the able and comprehensive Report on these subjects which was unanimously approved by the Basutoland Council in July, 1958.

I am happy to say that agreement has been reached on all the essential features of a new Constitution with the object of placing more power and greater responsibility in the hands of the Basuto nation. Before giving your Lordships an outline of the proposals which have been agreed I should like to pay a tribute to the skill and diligence which the Basuto delegation have displayed throughout our long and complicated negotiations. It has been a great pleasure to me to conduct these negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom with representatives of the Basuto nation who have shown both moderation and wisdom in matters which affect Basutoland directly and have at the same time shown themselves fully conscious of the significance of the matters which we have discussed.

The Report, on which our agreement is largely based, is an historic document on the relations between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Basuto nation. In accordance with the proposals in the Report, I intend to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen, that subject to certain legislative and reserve powers remaining with the High Commissioner, the Constitution should establish a Legislative Council for Basutoland to be called the Basutoland National Council. This Council would be given power to legislate for all persons in Basutoland and would have the right in addition to discuss those matters which remain in the High Commissioner's legislative sphere. Its financial powers would include the right to vote the estimates on Council matters and to discuss those relating to the High Commissioner's matters. The High Commissioner would be instructed to observe a specific ratio of expenditure in relation to the total Basutoland budget in any one year and would not exceed this ratio by more than 4.9 per cent. of the total budget without the prior agreement of the Basutoland Council.

The Council would consist of eighty members, of whom half would be elected by the district councils. There would be an Executive Council, established broadly along the lines of the Report, comprising four unofficial members and four official members of whom one would be the Resident Commissioner, who would preside. Local Government would be organised on the lines proposed in the Report.

A decision with regard to the franchise was reached only after both delegations had discussed with great care the special needs and circumstances of Basutoland. Both delegations recognise that the proposal to base the franchise upon membership of the Basuto nation was put forward by the Basutoland Council in the sincerely held belief that it would operate effectively and without discrimination. In addition, however, there were many other important aspects relative to the problem; and both delegations are satisfied that the best solution is to establish a single roll for Basuto and non-Basuto British subjects and British protected persons. They have also agreed on the qualifications proposed in the Report with regard to age, presence in an electoral area for a specified period and the payment of tax—it being accepted by the United Kingdom Government, respecting the last of these, that a revision of the present tax system will be undertaken with a view to removing any features apparently discriminatory on the score of race.

Her Majesty's Government also recognise that the agreement on the franchise involves some amendment in the existing law governing the residence of non-Basuto in Basutoland, and the giving of assurances regarding land, entry and residence. These latter subjects are dealt with in the particularly valuable and thorough historial section of the Report. I am glad to note that this section, which has of course been fully endorsed by the representatives of the Basuto nation, restates the privileges which traders and missionaries have enjoyed, and should continue to enjoy in Basutoland. On these matters a number of declarations have been made by previous High Commissioners, which are quoted in the Report, and I am happy to state that these still accurately represent the attitude of Her Majesty's Government.

To summarise the main points: it is our understanding that the land of Basutoland is legally vested in the Paramount Chief in trust for the Basuto nation, and that Basutoland is not open to colonisation by non-Basuto. It is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to effect a change in this position. I also confirm that persons who are not members of the Basuto nation and who are made eligible for the franchise or are admitted to the franchise will not, as a result, acquire any right, or a claim to any right, respecting land in Basutoland, or any right to reside there. Agreement has been reached with regard to the Chairmanship of the Legislative Council broadly in accordance with the Report. In principle the Chairman should be elected by the Council as soon as practicable and the Constitution would make provision accordingly.

Both delegations were at all times anxious that the special position of the Paramount Chief should be recognised in relation to the new Constitution. The powers which he will exercise correspond to those set out in the Report and it has been agreed that to assist him in the execution of his duties he should have the advice of the Resident Commissioner, one person nominated by the Paramount Chief and the Paramount Chief's nominee to the Executive Council. Both delegations fully recognise the important part which the Chieftainship plays in the administration and in the general life of Basutoland and here again the proposals of the Report were agreed with relatively minor changes.

It has not been my purpose, my Lords, to set out in this statement all the detailed conclusions which have been reached in the course of our lengthy but fruitful discussions. These will be laid before Parliament in the form of a White Paper. But I may say that I have agreed that work should start on the modification of the present Council building to meet the requirements of the new Council and that a beginning should be made of the training of the Basuto officials who will play an important part in its affairs. It is, moreover, the policy of Her Majesty's Government to increase the number of Basuto civil servants as soon as suitable candidates become available. I hope and believe that this new Constitution for Basutoland will make a real advance in the political development of the Basuto nation and will redound to the credit of all those who have had such a significant share in making this advance possible.

My Lords, that has been a long statement, but I was very anxious that the delegation from the Basutoland nation, who have been here now for one month, should have that statement made to Parliament before we retire for the Christmas Recess.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for that long and informative statement. We should naturally like to study it in more detail, as the time available to us has been short; but here and now I wish to welcome the statement and to congratulate Her Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State personally, as well as the delegation from Basutoland, on the agreement they have made. I feel that this is an historic day in the history of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Basutoland; and the Secretary of State has given the Basuto nation a very fine Christmas present indeed. I feel that the Secretary of State and the Basutos have shown much courage, and for it we should give them credit.

I should like, if I may, to ask a few questions of the Secretary of State. We welcome particularly the establishment of a Legislative Council and of a single roll. Will he inform the House when it is proposed that elections should be held and when the Legislative Council is to be set up. Secondly, will the elections be held on a constituency basis? And, thirdly, what are the reserve powers of the Resident Commissioner?


My Lords, the answer to the first two questions is that we have not fixed a date, but we are proposing to get on with the arrangements as soon as may be, and I should hope that the Legislative Council will be in existence somewhere towards the autumn of next year. That is the kind of programme we have in mind. But we want to get on as fast as we can and get the district councils into existence, because they have a part to play in electing Legislative Council members. Directly that is done we can get on with the job. The reserve powers of the High Commissioner concern external affairs and defence, internal security, post office and one or two other things of that kind which have been agreed, and which I will publish in full in the White Paper.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I wish to declare an interest in this matter, for my family and myself have been concerned with this most beautiful country of Basutoland for the last eighty years? And may I add that we hope still to be concerned with it for the next eighty years. Consequently, I know a good deal about it at first-hand. May I ask him whether he is aware that the Basuto people are most friendly towards the United Kingdom and cherish their allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen? They hope that that allegiance will long continue. Is he aware that great statesmanship has been shown by the Paramount Chieftainess and her Chiefs in the various Committees which have sat upon this matter, with the most valuable help of Professor Cowen? And, further, is he aware that the proposals—so far as one is able to take them in at a first hearing of a brief statement—would appear to me to be proposals which would commend themselves not only to the Basuto nation and the Chiefs but also to the Europeans who live and work in that country, and who have had commercial interests there for so long?

Next, may I ask him whether he is aware that great credit redounds upon all who have been concerned with this, not excluding the Resident Commissioner himself, His Honour Mr. Chaplin? And may I ask this question—I apologise for the length of my remarks, but this is a very longstanding family interest: in the extremely unlikely event (and I regard it as most unlikely, having regard to the friendly feeling between Europeans and the Basuto nation) of any discrimination being shown, would the Europeans have, as I think they have been promised by the Basuto people. as well as by Her Majesty's Government, a right of access to and démarche to the Resident Commissioner and, through the High Commissioner, to the Secretary of State? May I end by asking whether the noble Earl is aware that all those who know about This problem will feel that both Her Majesty's Government and the representatives of the Basuto people have done a good job in recent weeks, and we wish them the best of luck?


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. Of course, as he says, there is no intention on the part of the Basuto nation to discriminate; indeed, a feature of our discussions has been the wish of the Basuto nation that people should enjoy their territory, because the Secretary of State is always there in the background, in any such event.


My Lords, we understand, without having read the statement, that the noble Earl was careful to make it quite clear, in view of the last question of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, that it is essential to establish the right of démarche, as he put it, or appeal, must apply with complete equality between the Basutos and others. Is that so?


My Lords, of course. As I say, the Secretary of State is in the background for the whole Basuto nation.


My Lords, may I ask about the claim made since the South Africa Act for the incorporation of this Protectorate in the Union? What is the exact position to-day? And when the noble Earl speaks of the new Council being consulted, have they been consulted and do they approve of the Defence Agreement with the Union?


My Lords, in response to the first part of that question I would wish only to say that my position and that of the United Kingdom has been made quite clear to the South African Government and to the Basuto nation, and is well known. I do not think I can answer the second question without notice.


My Lords, if I put down a Question, since this is a statement on the new Constitution, will the noble Earl tell me whether the approval of the African population and of the Basutos has been secured in any form for this defence agreement?


My Lords, if the noble Viscount puts down any Question I will gladly answer it; and we shall no doubt answer a good many supplementaries, too. But if he will look at the White Paper and then put down his Question I will give my reply.


My Lords, we cannot get away with treating this as a joke. This is a most serious issue for the African population. I will put down a Question and conform with all the Rules of the House. I thank the noble Earl for the very friendly and jocose way he has dealt with this quite important matter.


My Lords, I was not treating the subject jocosely; only the noble Viscount.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me, I should like to congratulate him and, through him, the Government, upon the statement to which we have listened. I am one of a large number of people who have for some years now felt great anxiety about the future of the Protectorates, which have been increasingly subjected to considerable external pressure. I feel that the statement to which we have listened promises more security for them in the future; and, of course, with security we feel that there probably will go greater prosperity. I believe that the statement is fully in line with the new trends in colonial policy, trends which I am certain if pursued will result in this country's exercising great influence in the future of Africa, a future which I am sure we shall all agree is fraught with fate.


My Lords, the statement we have just heard from the noble Earl the Leader of the House gives an indication of the widespread nature of the negotiations; and one can easily understand the complications that must have taken place in the discussions. Those of us who have connections with South Africa and Basutoland are indeed sure that this statement will give widespread satisfaction; and one can feel Her Majesty's Government are to be congratulated that it has been possible to reach an agreement of this character.


My Lords, I take it that we are going to have a White Paper fairly soon. Will that be followed by legislation and, if so, will a Bill be introduced quite shortly? And will it be introduced in this House or in another place?


My Lords, I am not absolutely sure about the answer to that. I should like to consider it, if I may. I do not think this will involve legislation, but perhaps I can consider that point further and let the noble Lord know. It is mostly to do with the setting up of the Constitution, which I think will not need legislation.


My Lords, could the noble Earl say a little more about the single electoral roll? Is it the intention that all adults should be entitled to vote, or are there reservations regarding sex, property, or anything else?


Might I add to that this further question? Am I right in assuming that this franchise will in fact operate only in connection with the district councils, since the members of the Legislative Council are going to be elected by the district councils?


The noble Lord is quite right—the members of the Legislative Council will be elected by the district councils. So far as the details of the franchise are concerned, I would rather not go into that matter this afternoon. If the noble Lord would await the White Paper, he will see full details there, and we can have a debate on it later if necessary.