HL Deb 08 February 1961 vol 228 cc403-8

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what substance there may be in the protests by the Nyasaland Settlers' and Residents' Association against the franchise rules in the Gazette Notice No. 1, 1961, as being contrary to the Lancaster House Agreement; further. in the lower roll whether Portuguese Africans (who are neither British subjects nor British protected persons) are admitted when in similar circumstances European and Asian Portuguese are not eligible (reference being to paragraph 6, 1, a, iii); and lastly, whether names on the existing non-African Territorial roll have to undergo re-registration (this refers to the higher roll).]


My Lords, I assume that the noble Earl is referring to the Regulations promulgated in the Nyasaland Gazette under Notice No. 2 of 1961. These Regulations were based on the recommendations of the Working Party which was established by the Nyasaland Constitutional Conference last year. Before they were enacted, both the Governor and my right honourable friend had detailed consultation on the recommendations with the Conference delegates, both through correspondence and in discussion. The regulations are in no way contrary to the Lancaster House agreement, which noble Lords will appreciate did not cover the detailed arrangements for the franchise or the elections. The Working Party was established for the purpose of advising on detailed matters arising from the broad decisions of the Conference.

The question of those Africans who are neither British subjects nor British protected persons to which the noble Earl refers was naturally the subject of discussion with the delegates. The position is that such persons have long been recognised as belonging to Nyasaland, are fully integrated into the population, and are expected to meet all their obligations as citizens. Furthermore, it would be administratively quite impracticable to distinguish these persons from the other Africans among whom they live. As regards the last part of the Question, my right honourable friend has agreed that the transfer of names on the existing territorial roll should be automatic.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his Answer, may I seek enlightenment in regard to the Legislative Council which, one would suppose, will have had the business before them to discuss? Was a Council Session asked for?


My Lords, it was felt that it was not the best course to follow to discuss these questions with the Legislative Council, which represented only some of those directly concerned with the Constitution. The Malawi Party, for example, would not have been able to take any part. It was the belief and decision of my right honourable friend that the better course was to discuss these questions with the various delegates to the Federal Conference and take advantage of their presence here. It was that method that we pursued, and I feel quite confident that it was the right way to enter into discussion and consultation.


My Lords, may I draw the noble Earl's attention to two points? He has said that there was no deviation from the Agreement at the Constitutional Conference, but it is quite clearly stated as "nationals, British subjects or British protected persons belonging to Nyasaland". I ask the noble Earl whether he has not deviated from the terms of the Constitutional Conference. I ask whether in fact that is riot a case in point: that the description "nationals, British subjects or British protected persons" is a general qualification, and that that has, in fact, been departed from. May I ask him also whether, as the result of consultations with the delegates to the Constitutional Conference: held in London, all these delegates were in agreement with the proposals of the Working Party?


My Lords, to deal with the noble Lord's second question first, the answer is that all the delegates were not in agreement, but in so far as we were able to reach a common ground, or to meet the desires of the delegates, we did so—for example, in the last case that I mentioned in answer to the Question. But let us be clear: this was a sequel to the Conference. and not a part of the Conference recommendation.

On the first question, it is quite true that the giving of the vote to these Portuguese Africans is, in a sense, a deviation from the general lines; but we were in great difficulty. The Working Party who had to consider these things were in difficulty. They found that there was no possible way for them to distinguish between Africans who might have come over the border but who had for many years been accepted as citizens of the country, and those who had been there all their lives. So the decision taken by the Working Party. which was of the highest stanching and skill, was that it would be better to include all within the category. Incidentally, I may say that the Federal Government ran into precisely the same difficulty at the time when they were drawing up their regulations as to who should have a vote in their elections.


My Lords, may I ask a further supplementary question? I cannot understand this question of discrimination between a Portuguese African and a Portuguese European: it does appear to me to be discrimination. Could the noble Earl set my doubts at rest on that point?


My Lords, I do not think there is discrimination. As I have tried to explain, the fact is that in one case we cannot tell whether Portuguese Africans have been Nyasaland Africans from the start; in the other case, we can. Where we can distinguish, we do, under the rules, keep them out of the election.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the Portuguese make no difference? Why should we do so?


It is because that is provided in the regulations as agreed at the Conference.


My Lords, as it appears clear that the provisions for giving the vote to aliens do represent a departure from the decision of the Lancaster House Conference, and as they were unacceptable certainly to the main European Party in Nyasaland, should not the full Conference have been reconvened, to give them a chance to express their views? They were all in London and that could have been done. In that connection, may I ask my noble friend (although I do not know if this point is of very great practical importance) whether every effort should not now be made, in the case of the already very deeply worried Europeans in Nyasaland, to avoid anything which might suggest that their views do not count or are being overridden?



My Lords, every effort was made to reach agreement with all those concerned, and the various representations made by all those who were consulted were taken into account, and changes were made accordingly. But I think it must be made clear that, while the Conference came to certain agreement, the details of the franchise and the regulations were necessarily left to the Working Party to decide. That was not part of the Agreement. In. regard to the Portuguese Africans, as I have tried to explain, it really is not administratively possible to distinguish between them, and that was the decision of the Working Party. I do not think it really represents a deviation from the Agreement because, as I have already pointed out, one runs into precisely this difficulty; and the Government of the Federation have had the same difficulty in their own case.


My Lords, may I ask a final question? The administrative convenience is different in rural areas, and Nyasaland is largely a rural area, as compared with those large concentrations of Africans in towns. Any headman, unless he has been intimidated or put out of the way, will tell the Government inspector whether or not a man is Portuguese. A village headman would know, but in the neighbourhood of towns I suppose it would be different.


My Lords, I believe the position might be different in the neighbourhood of a town, but in general it is not possible to distinguish between one and the other; and, as have said, the Working Party, in coming to their decision, said we had either to rule out great areas or to include the few who might or might not be Portuguese East African-born, or born in Nyasaland.


My Lords, while I have great sympathy with the difficulties of the Secretary of State, I should like to know whether we are to regard this as a precedent that we can ipso facto grant full citizenship with voting rights to anybody whose citizenship is not distinguishable. It is a new departure. We have done certain things with which most of us have agreed: for example, we have given a vote to Eireann citizens in this country. But we have done that with our eyes open. I should like to know whether a precedent has been established.


My Lords, I do not think a precedent has been established in any way. As I have said several times, the fact is that we just do not know which of these may or may not be aliens and we have had to proceed on this basis. That was the decision come to by this very distinguished Working Party.


My Lords, I would reinforce what the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has said. However difficult this may be, surely when an Act of Parliament lays down who is a citizen of the Commonwealth and Empire—and we debated that matter for weeks and weeks here—it is most irregular to alter what, I submit with respect, is really the provisions of an Act of Parliament by a decision of a Minister on the advice of a Working Party. I do not know what the merits of the matter are, but as a constitutional point I hope that this will be most carefully considered.


My Lords, I do not believe that we have altered that. What we have said is that in practice we cannot distinguish between the one and the other. It is certainly not our intention or purpose to alter something which was agreed by Parliament