HL Deb 24 November 1959 vol 219 cc890-901

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will now make a statement about the Advisory Commission on Central Africa which is being made in another place by the Prime Minister, and for convenience I will make it in the Prime Minister's own words:

"As the House knows, the Constitution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is to be reviewed at a Conference to be held late in 1960. In preparation for that Conference the Government, in consultation with the other Governments concerned, intend to establish an Advisory Commission. The Commission will, as already announced, comprise 26 members drawn equally from the area of the Federation on the one hand and from the United Kingdom and certain other Commonwealth countries on the other, and will include independent members, both African and European, as well as United Kingdom Parliamentary representation. As I told the House on the 21st of July, we think that a comprehensive Commission of this kind will not only enable the Governments concerned to approach the Conference with the best possible advice: it will also serve the imaginative and constructive purpose of helping to create a common approach among all concerned to these very difficult problems. The political wisdom of Parliament, the direct experience of the Africans and Europeans living in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and the objective advice of distinguished independent minds will thus all be enabled to make their rightful contribution to this important end.

"I come first to the terms of reference. I will read them: 'In the light of the information provided by the Committee of Officials and of any additional information the Commission may require, to advise the five Governments, in preparation for the 1960 Review, on the constitutional programme and framework best suited to the achievement of the objects contained in the Constitution of 1953, including the Preamble.' "The House will note that these make special reference to the Constitution of 1953, including the Preamble, with all its safeguards.

"At the same time, as I said on the 21st of July, I regard the Commission as free in practice to hear all points of view from whatever quarter and on whatever subject. It will, of course, be for the Commission to decide what use to make of the material which reaches them. I am sure the House will have full confidence in my noble friend Lord Monckton's ability to deal with this.

"In these cases I do not think it is ever wise to be too specific or rigid in interpretation. But the House will see that these terms will permit the Commission to consider the whole field of the redistribution of powers in either direction between the Federation and the Territories and to advise on the timing of any programme and the character of any changes in the framework that they may suggest.

"I come now to the question of membership. As the House knows, Lord Monckton, despite his other heavy responsibilities, has agreed to give his services as Chairman. This is an appointment that has, I know, earned the warm approval of all shades of Parliamentary opinion. The remaining membership will be as follows:

"Vice-Chairman—Sir Donald Mac-Gillivray, who will be remembered for his distinguished career in Colonial administration and especially as High Commissioner in Malaya.

"United Kingdom Independent Members

"Mrs. Elspeth Huxley, the well known writer on African affairs.

"Professor D. T. Jack, Professor of Economics at the University of Durham and lately member of the Royal Commission on East Africa.

"The Reverend Dr. R. H. W. Shepherd, missionary of the Church of Scotland, formerly Principal of Love-dale and now completing his term as Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

"From the Commonwealth

"Professor D. C. Creighton, Professor of History of the University of Toronto.

"Mr. Frank Menzies, late Crown Solicitor for the State of Victoria in Australia.

"We are most grateful to these two distinguished citizens from Canada and Australia for giving up their time to share in this arduous but vital task.

"From the Federation

"Mr. G. H. Habanyama, Chief Councillor of the Gwembe Tonga Native authority in Northern Rhodesia.

"Mr. A. E. P. Robinson, Chairman of Central African Airways.

"Sir Victor Robinson, lately Attorney-General of the Federation.

"Mr. R. M. Taylor, a Company Director, formerly Federal Secretary for Finance.

"From Southern Rhodesia

"Mr. Justice Beadle, Judge of the High Court of Southern Rhodesia.

"Mr. C. Ellman-Brown, Chartered Accountant. Formerly a Minister in the Administration of Mr. Garfield Todd.

"Mr. Simon Segola, Chief of the Ndebele people.

"From Northern Rhodesia

"Mr. Woodrow Cross, Farmer.

"Mr. Lawrence Katilungu, President-General, African Mine Workers' Trade Union, Northern Rhodesia.

"Mr. W. F. McCleland, a Company Director and a member of the Northern Rhodesia Central Race Relations Committee.

"From Nyasaland

"The Reverend Father Henry Chikuse, Mission School Manager, Nyasaland.

"Mr. E. C. Gondwe, Education Officer, Northern Province, who attended the 1951 Conference at the Victoria Falls.

"Mr. G. G. S. J. Hadlow, Chairman of the Nyasaland Tea Association and formerly a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils, Nyasaland.

"A question on which much attention has been focused in Parliament and elsewhere is whether the Commission will command the confidence of the African peoples in the Federation. This is a point to which the Government naturally attach the greatest importance. Indeed our object throughout has been to establish a body which would enjoy the confidence of all the people both in the Federation and in this country. I hope that the membership as now established, with its distinguished Chairman and its independent Commonwealth and African representation, will commend itself to people of goodwill everywhere. It has been suggested that representatives of African political Parties should be included in the Commission. In our view, that would be a complete misconception of the purpose of the Commission which is intended to bring to this task men of independent mind not committed to extreme views.

"What really matters is that African opinion of all shades will be fully heard and objectively recorded. As I have said before, I regard the Corn-mission as free, in practice, to hear all points of view from whatever quarter. As regards the question of receiving written or oral evidence from persons who may be under detention when the Commission is operating. I am sure that this can be arranged. Moreover, we are prepared, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies said on the 2nd of November, to publish the statements submitted to the Commission and the evidence given before it, subject to the understanding that those witnesses, who do not wish their evidence to be published, may ask that it should not be made public, and their wishes will be respected.

"Before I finish, I should like to remind the House that this Commission is advisory. It expects to begin work early in February when the Report of the Committee of Officials which is at present meeting will be available. And the Commission itself will be followed by a Governmental Conference whose conclusions will in turn be subject to consideration by Parliament.

"With regard to the association of Parliament with the Commission. I have had a number of discussions with the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. These are not yet concluded. I hope very much that he will see his way to nominate three Privy Counsellors to play their part in this work. A further statement on this point will be made as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I thought it right to announce without further delay the non-Parliamentary membership and terms of reference of the Commission."


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for giving us the Prime Minister's statement on this vital and important issue. The whole form of the Commission itself as it is announced, I am sure the noble Earl the Leader of the House will know—we have often told him—is not the type of Commission we really like. We should have preferred from the commencement of this difficulty to have a Parliamentary Commission. After all, it is the Government of this country which is responsible for the final enactment of any constitutional change in these territories, and the informing of Parliament by its own repesentatives adequately briefed on their inquiries is very important.

I am not, of course, in any way criticising any of the members whose nominations by other Commonwealth countries have been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. It may be that that will prove to be an experiment of great importance in other activities which may have to be undertaken in different parts of the Commonwealth. But, speaking for my noble friends and my honourable friends in another place, I should like to say that we do not think it was necessary to confine the representatives of the British Parliaments on this Commission to Privy Counsellors. It may perhaps even be described as foolish when it excludes some person in Parliament of really great wisdom and information on the matter who might do just as well as a Privy Counsellor. That, I thought, needed to be stated at this stage.

The other matter about which I hope we shall have some Parliamentary unity is the statement by the Prime Minister that not only has he had conversations with my right honourable friend who leads the Opposition in another place, but that the conversations will continue. It must be obvious to the noble Earl the Leader of the House and to Members of your Lordships' House that that means that the Opposition are not yet fully satisfied by the statement which has so far been announced as giving the ultimate policy of Her Majesty's Government in this matter of sending out a Commission. I think that one of the most important things to be considered in the continued conversations is how best to achieve what the Prime Minister has rightly stated to be the important objective of all Parties—namely, to regain and hold the confidence of the African people. Without doing that, the task seems to me to be quite impossible, however much one may talk of the Preamble to the Order in Council under the 1953 Act—that is to say, that you must make changes only with the will of the people of the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Unless that can really be secured, it seems to me that it will not much matter what decisions you arrive at in the Commission or what recommendations are made to Her Majesty's Government, because you will have missed the main objective for sending out the Commission at all.

I come now to a point in the statement of the Prime Minister. I am grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for having given me a few moments of opportunity to study the statement. There are two important paragraphs in it, namely: The political wisdom of Parliament, the direct experience of the Africans and Europeans living in Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the objective advice of distinguished independent minds will thus all be enabled to make their rightful contribution to this important end. I think that is most important. But how can those people who are in detention at the present time really be able "to make their rightful contribution to this end"? Remember the importance of their views and the importance of their influence in the native populations of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

It looks to me, from a further passage in the statement of the Prime Minister, that some arrangement is to be made for even those people who remain still in detention to give evidence, either written or oral. But in what sort of conditions? What sort of evidence would you get from people who are confined for 250 days and nights, against whom no charge has been brought and who have not been brought to trial? What sort of valuable and carefully prepared evidence are you going to be able to obtain from this important leadership section of the African populations while that position continues? I hope that Her Majesty's Government have taken those points into consideration, having regard to their rightly stated objective to regain the confidence of the African people. Then I go on to another point of considerable substance—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount—I hope he will not think it rude of me—may I remind him that this is a statement and not a debate? The noble Viscount is making a speech. Surely it would be better for him to wait to make his speech when the subject is down for discussion. It is not a question at all that the noble Viscount is asking.


Well, I think that the presentation of this matter in a House of Her Majesty's Parliament is quite important. I have referred to the fact of the conversations, which are urgent, which are going on between the official Opposition and Her Majesty's Government, and which will be going on. It seems to me to be reasonable to inform your Lordships of certain points which must continue to be matters of discussion between the Government and the Opposition before a settlement can be arrived at. If at any time the noble Earl the Leader of the House wishes to say he does not want me to continue on any particular point, I am quite sure he will do so—in fact, I am quite sure that he would already have done so.

This has rather broken the thread of what I was saying. We are all most anxious that the objective of the Government to regain the confidence of the people is secured; that the various steps that can be taken under the terms of reference will in fact also be secured; and that, at the same time, the provisions of the Preamble to the Order of 1953 are also fully secured. When reference is made in places to the "framework", I, at any rate, am not quite clear how far that is a freeing or a limiting factor in the powers of the Chairman.

Those are the points that I wanted to bring to the notice of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I think it would be discourteous of me if, because of the break, I forgot to say that I agree entirely with the Prime Minister in the general Parliamentary confidence in the person and the character of the noble and learned Chairman whom they have selected to take the Chair of the Commission; and in all respects we wish him well in his mission.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, since I am confined technically to asking a question, might I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether he would be good enough to accept the thanks of the House for the most interesting and long statement which he has given us in the Prime Minister's words? I think your Lordships will all agree that it is almost impossible to go into debate on such a wide subject at such short notice, and I do not propose to do so, especially as the noble Viscount leading the Opposition has covered a good many aspects of it. But might I ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether he can give any indication of the time at which the names will be announced of the Parliamentary members of this delegation? Presumably, it will be when the Prime Minister has discussed it with the two Opposition Parties, although I think only one was mentioned in the statement which has been read out.

We welcome the statement. I should, of course, like to join the noble Viscount in saying that we have complete confidence in the noble Viscount who is to be its Chairman, in his able Vice-Chairman and in the other members appointed, although I personally feel a little sorry that there is not some further representation of the non-white element apart from Africa—for instance, from the West Indies, or possibly from India or some other places. There is just one more point. I ask the noble Earl if he can state categorically whether the Preamble is to be so interpreted that if Nyasaland should wish to take some different form of association—and I deliberately use the word "association"—and not wish to go forward in association with the other two territories (though nevertheless, I hope, still under the Crown) that matter is ruled out of the deliberations of the Commission. Or will such wishes be taken into account?


My Lords, I want to ask one question. Although I have not had the advantage of seeing the statement and was only able to take down the words, as I understood it my noble friend announced that the new Commission would have terms of reference which would allow it to advise on the constitutional framework best fitted to carry out the Constitution of the Federation, including the Preamble. I do not dissent from that at all, but up to now it has always been assumed, and I believe it has been stated, that the Commission will make no recommendations. May we take it that that is still the position and that what the Commission will do is to advise on the division of responsibility (I think that is the word) between the Federation and the territories, and secondly on the timing of any steps that may be taken? That goes quite a long way, but they cannot do more. They cannot make recommendations. It is merely elucidatory. I ask only because it is very important that it be made clear from the outset that final decisions must rest with the Governments concerned.


My Lords, would the noble Earl be kind enough, when replying, to answer one point: could we be told how the African representatives on the Commission have been chosen and what bodies or persons have been consulted about their appointment.


My Lords, I will deal with the questions in reverse order. Africans were selected in the same way as all others—by invitation by the Governments concerned. The Governments of Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia and the Federation invited their own African representatives; and incidentally the African representative of the Federation has come from Northern Rhodesia. My noble friend Lord Salisbury asked me a question which I will answer in this way: this is an Advisory Commission and of course the final decisions rest entirely with the Governments who will conduct the Review.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, both asked about the Preamble. We have been, and I repeat we are, absolutely explicit on our pledges as to the operation of the Preamble in the safeguards that gives to the two Northern territories. British protection cannot be withdrawn until the will of the people of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland has been ascertained. It is too early, of course, to foresee under what conditions that might take place.


My Lords, does that mean that British protection will not be withdrawn but will apply if they continue in the Federation?


My Lords, I feel we should pursue that later, for there is danger of some confusion arising. The Preamble to the Constitution deals with the possibility of the eventual withdrawal of British protection, but that is not in prospect, so I do not think it is worth looking too far ahead. The noble Viscount raised the question of Parliamentary representation from this country and suggested that instead of Privy Counsellors we might have Members of Parliament. That is a point of view. I would point out that there are no other Members of Parliament from any of the other countries represented, so that the United Kingdom is therefore in a special position. We are the only Parliamentary element in the Commission.

So far as the Commonwealth countries and their representatives are concerned, it would have been possible to have someone from one of the other Commonwealth countries, but the reason for having these two representatives was that they had had long experience of the work of federation, in Australia and Canada. I believe I have covered all the points that have been raised. I would only express the hope that it will be possible for the Opposition to join in this work. A great many distinguished men, including the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, have given up a great deal to help in this task which is one in which the country really expects us to combine.


My Lords, I am grateful for the reply by the noble Earl the Leader of the House to the points I made, but I do not think he has really replied to my one specific point—how much progress can be made, in his view, towards meeting the point of the Opposition with regard to terms of reference in relation to those paragraphs in which the term "framework" is used. Are the terms of reference to be handed to the Chairman to be construed as if they must all be within the terms of the framework of 1953? It has been said that evidence will be heard from every quarter. I do not want to see any limit on the powers of the Chairman.


My Lords, I am sure that the Chairman will be satisfied that these powers will enable him to do what the commission is intended to do. As I understand it, the 1960 Review deals with the distribution of powers as between units of the Federation and the centre of the Federation. As the noble Viscount knows, there are many Federations in the world, some having looser arrangements, some tighter arrangements. It will be with that aspect of redistribution of power that the Review will be concerned. The Advisory Commission, therefore, must be concerned with that too. I am not anxious to expand on what has been said on the terms of reference, but I believe that there is wide scope for the Commission to make recommendations which, I think, every reasonable person wants, to find out how great are the difficulties and how they may be overcome.


My Lords, does the noble Earl now say it is "recommendations"? There is a difference.


My Lords, they will be able to give advice on these matters.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I shall look rather carefully at his last reply, because I consider it is important. I did not gather that he had given me any reassurance about the leading persons detained and on the value or non-value of their evidence procured in conditions of detention. Are we to understand that there is likely to be a raising of the state of emergency, these people being given their rights in order to prepare an adequate case?


My Lords, the continuation of the state of emergency is a matter for my right honourable friend the Colonial Secretary. He made a statement the other day saying that he hoped he could proceed as fast as possible as far as the detainees are concerned; but I cannot say to the noble Viscount that there will not be people in detention. There may be people in detention. All I can say is that if there is anybody in detention whom the Commission wish to hear, or who wish to be heard by the Commission, then appropriate arrangements will be made.


My Lords, as one unfamiliar with the niceties of Parliamentary procedure, may I ask the noble Earl a question? It has been emphasised that this is an Advisory Commission—that is to say, a body who will give the Government advice on particular problems. Presumably that advice will have to be mobilised and stated in some form; in other words, it will be something which, in the opinion of the Commission, Her Majesty's Government ought to do. May I ask the noble Earl what is the difference between that kind of advice stated in that form and a recommendation?


My Lords, I will bring the noble Lord and the noble Viscount together later and they can argue it out. I am quite certain that with one of the experience of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, in the Chair, he and his very distinguished colleagues will be able to satisfy everybody—whether it is advice or recommendations.


My Lords, can the noble Earl the Leader of the House inform us when it is anticipated that this Commission will set off for Africa?


My Lords, I think the Committee of Officials have assembled much material which the Commission will wish to digest; and, although the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, would wish to consult his colleagues, I believe he would feel that February should be about the month when they would set off. The weather then would, of course, enable them to travel around.