§ 3.40 p.m.
THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMON WEALTH RELATIONS (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House informed the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, at the beginning of the Sitting I should be, I am now in a position to give the noble Viscount an Answer to his Private Notice Question, which, with the permission of the House, I will give in the same terms as were used by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in answer to a similar Question in another place:
"At the opening meeting of the Federal Review Conference on December 5, all delegates agreed that their proceedings would be confidential. I do not therefore propose to say anything about what took place at our meetings. However, honourable Members will have read in this morning's newspapers statements made outside the Conference by certain of 391 the African delegates. From these statements it would appear that these delegates have decided not to attend any further meetings of the Conference.
"The Conferences to review the Constitutions of Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia are of course closely inter-related with the Conference to review the Constitution of the Federation. It was therefore decided to postpone these territorial conferences, which were to have opened this morning, in order to provide an opportunity to clarify the position. The Federal Conference is, of course, continuing as planned and is at this moment in session."
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for kindly giving us that reply. Is he aware that all Parties, I think, in the State will have seen with great regret what was reported in the Press this morning about this interruption, or partial interruption, of the Conference? It is not for us at this stage to make any comment whatsoever on that; I think it would be most unwise. On the other hand, I think it was quite reasonable to postpone the opening sessions of the proposed Conferences dealing with territorial questions relating to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. But I am sure that the Government will not mind if we submit to them the anxiety we have and say that we should not like the very important possibilities of reforms in these two territories to be badly affected by the present situation. We hope that somehow a bridge may be found to pursue both desirable reforms.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his helpful comment to my reply, and I can assure him that the territorial Conferences will open as soon as we are satisfied that there is a reasonable prospect of fruitful discussion.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Duke whether he and his colleagues in the Department will do everything they possibly can to get the Africans who walked out to come back in? May I ask him whether he is aware that it is the experience of many of us who have dealt with Africans that this 392 does happen occasionally? When they come to what they consider to be a blank wall, they tend to walk out; and it may be possible for them to come back in if they are approached and if better counsels prevail.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I am quite sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will take due note of what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said. Naturally, Her Majesty's Government are as anxious as anyone that the Federal Conference should continue as fully representative as possible. And if, within reason, the Africans are prepared to return, they will be welcome at Lancaster House.
My Lords, may I underline what has been said, both on a Party line and on a non-Party line? This matter is viewed with the greatest concern not only in this country but elsewhere. Here is an opportunity of doing something. Might I ask the Government to give an assurance that they will (what I think is called) lean over backwards to see that the matter does not fall to the ground and that this great opportunity is not postponed for longer than necessary?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I am not sure if by leaning over backwards one stops from falling to the ground.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the representative of the Commonwealth Relations Office, if I may put it without effusion, whether he is aware that the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has most admirably expressed the views of all of us, I think, in this House who take an interest in African matters? And may I respectfully hope that we shall not pursue the matter further at this moment, because it will do only harm?