HL Deb 23 March 1961 vol 229 cc1225-51

2.47 p.m.

VISCOUNT HAILSHAM rose to move That this House takes note of the withdrawal of the application of the Prime Minister of South Africa for the Union of South Africa to remain a member of the Commonwealth after his country becomes a Republic on 31st May next.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount speaks, may I rise to put a point to him with regard to what should be covered in the debate on the Motion on the Order Paper this afternoon, because it was raised last week. I felt I should like to say that. having regard to what has happened since then—the statement by Mr. Welensky, and also the statements in another place and the approaching Lusaka conference—I should regard it, from my point of view, as being best to leave out of the debate matters likely to arise at the Lusaka conference and to deal with the actual statement in the words of the Motion on the. Paper.


My Lords, I do not know whether I should comment on that, but I should personally agree with the noble Viscount. The only Rule that I know affecting the relevance of debate is Standing Order No. 26, which lays down that Debate must be relevant to the Question before the House", and no doubt noble Lords will follow that Standing Order.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. When I made the statement in the House announcing the melancholy fact to which this Motion draws attention, I promised an early debate, and after discussion through the usual channels it was thought that this type of Motion was best and that it should be moved by a Government spokesman. I confess that it is a long time since I approached a task with more reluctance. No one, I think, can feel happy at what has taken place; and though our reasons for unhappiness may not in all cases be the same—and some may even claim to feel some relief at the matter—no one faced, as I am, with the responsibility for public utterance can fail to be oppressed with the fear that some words of his, ill-chosen or carelessly spoken, may hurt rather than heal an unhappy situation. Even spoken sincerely, as they are in my case, and with restraint, as I hope they will be, they can scarcely provide pleasure to anyone.

Yet this is a case where the House and, I think, the country, are entitled to candour and some leadership on the part of the Government, especially, I would say, on four questions—the first two relating to the conduct of the Conference, and the second two relating to the future. Ought we to have stood, as we did during the Conference, for trying to maintain the unity of the Commonwealth? That is the first question. Are we to be blamed for our failure to succeed in retaining the unity of the Commonwealth? That is the second question. What will be the effect of what has happened on our relations with South Africa? That is the third question. And the fourth question is: What will be the effect of what has happened upon the Commonwealth as a whole? These are all matters to which we must give some thought, and upon which I will seek to say something.

My Lords, ought we to have tried, as we did, and as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did as Chairman, to reach an agreement which would maintain the unity of the Commonwealth without sacrificing principle? I want to say, first of all, something about the principle of toleration. That is a characteristic of British policy and British life. It is not, of course, confined to our relations with the Commonwealth. Time and again, even in the period since the war, we have tried, without sacrifice of principle, without compromising our known stands on political and moral matters, to take of two courses that which is the more tolerant.

Tolerance is always toleration of something of which one does not approve. That is the nature of the quality. It is not a matter of expedience, at any rate with some of us. Toleration is a question of principle, and it is a principle in which we believe. We have shown it in relation to Communist China, whom we recognise, while others of our Allies do not. We have publicly expressed our desire to seek the admittance to the United Nations of a Power which others of our Allies do not recognise. We did not vote on the Tibet Resolution when other people thought that perhaps we should. We have shown toleration in relation to Russia (and, indeed, if we did not show it in relation to Russia there would be a pretty poor prospect for the world) in cultural relations and in trade, even though we may feel as most of us feel, as I think we every one of us feels, on the question, say, of Hungary. There have been cases when our European Allies have done that which, to put it plainly, embarrasses us, by adopting internal systems of which we cannot approve. Again we have often incurred criticism for not pushing to the vote our attitude towards them.

It is not wrong, surely, that we should have tried to do as much for a member of the Commonwealth as we have done for other nations of which we feel a much stronger sense of criticism. We cannot part with South Africa without a pang. Nor can we do so without the assurance, already given, that, if circumstances change so that she can once more be readmitted without a sacrifice of principle, the door is open, the way is clear, the hand of fellowship is ready to be stretched out. And there are surely other considerations to be borne in mind. The poignant thing about this present parting is that the Commonwealth is, or at least it ought to be and we all say that it is, an association of peoples, not an association of Governments, and that the circumstances which have been forced upon us have made the criticism of at worst a Government's or at best a Party's policy result in a separation between peoples.

The policy, the adhesion to which led to the withdrawal of South Africa's application, was the policy of a Govern- ment, not of a people. If we were to count the total population of South Africa—as in this case why should we not?—can anyone doubt that the overwhelming majority would be at least as opposed to the policies of the South African Government as anyone in this country? Moreover, of the European population, which we cannot ignore, can any of us forget that a large minority were and are so closely attached to our own country in mind and sentiment that they were against even the move to make South Africa a republic which precipitated the present crisis?

Can we forget them? English in speech, British in origin, wearing so frequently British medal ribbons on their chests, married not seldom to British consorts, devoted to British conceptions of liberty and law, they are now divorced from the fountain head of British life. My Lords, can we view this spectacle without sorrow? Is there any reason why we should try to conceal either our anxiety or our regret? I feel no doubt that we should have been less than honourable in our trust had we not attempted to prevent the separation which has now taken place. That is my answer to the first of the four questions.

Are we to be blamed for not meeting with a higher measure of success? In politics, failure to achieve a desired object is all too often the criterion of censure. Yet I would ask the House to show not only its generosity and chivalry, but also a sense of its approval of the service my right honourable friend has rendered, by sending him on this issue a message, not of censure, but of sympathy and support, as his colleagues in the Cabinet have already done. I believe he could not possibly have done more, and we should have respected him less if he had attempted less. Despite our dislike of the policies of the South African Government in one whole range of respects, it was our duty to try to hold the Commonwealth together in its unity, though not, I should have said, at too high a price.

But, my Lords, to succeed in that—and this is the crux of the matter—would have meant not a formula, which, of course sometimes one can obtain: it would have meant a real meeting of minds about a genuine modus vivendi. If that was not possible a break now or at some not distant point in the future was quite certain. I would say—I would ask the House to say—better what has happened, melancholy, poignant as it is; better what has happened, which was done decently and in a dignified, charitable and restrained manner, than an artificial papering over of cracks followed by a public campaign for expulsion, bitter words, and finally, perhaps, a total disintegration of our fellowship. Nor can I avoid a word of respect to the South African Prime Minister for taking the initiative in this matter. Even though my own view is that the question had been rendered insoluble by his own unwillingness to compromise, I think we owe him a debt of gratitude which should be acknowledged.

My Lords, that brings me to the question, which I handle with reluctance but on which I think I should say something, of apartheid. I have never at any time in my public life referred to this subject before, and I know that I shall be acquitted of saying anything at all which is designed or thought to adopt, as I would not wish to adopt, an air of unctuousness or pharisaical superiority. I can remember very well that during the war our convoy, fresh from the air raids, went round the Cape. It split in two, one half putting in at Cape Town, the other, my own half, at Durban. That happened not once, to one convoy, to one young officer going out to the Middle East; it 'happened to every convoy that we sent out. I shall never forget the friendship, the hospitality, the kindness, of a land at peace receiving us who were going out to the war; and that memory will never depart from my own mind. I always said to myself that if ever there was a chance of repaying that kindness I should try to take that chance. And now it has fallen to my lot to move this Motion.

As I went round Parliament Square this morning I saw the statue of Smuts. I could not rid myself of the thought that if Smuts had been alive this would never have happened. It is not that when he was there we or South Africa were perfect. When two communities of different origins, different levels of advancement, different wealth, have to live side by side, it is inevitable, perhaps even convenient, for a certain amount of voluntary segregation to exist. Indeed, human nature being what it is, as a temporary expedient, as a necessary evil, I suppose it is not intolerable to contemplate a degree of discrimination. If it were, there are few races of any colour who could hold up their heads in the consciousness that they were free from blame. But it is important to realise that what has happened since Smuts' death is not just that. It is not that a social convenience, a temporary but unavoidable evil, has been tolerated, but that it has been advertised as a permanency, erected into a social philosophy, lauded as la Virtue, almost exalted as a religion.

My Lords, even primitive men are not prepared to give up the hope and aspiration for equality and human dignity. Even poor men are not content to traffic their birthright as human beings for economic advantage—or even for education. What is wrong about this is that whilst it preaches a separation that can never be achieved it achieves a subordination of one community to another which will never be accepted. No doubt there was discrimination before apartheid. But apartheid allowed hope to escape from Pandora's Box; and men who are without the hope of justice often resort to violence to bring down the temple of civilisation on the heads of others.

My Lords, we must not take up an attitude of condemnation. We have no large-size racial problem in this country. It is an evil thing to Compound the sins you're most inclined to By damning those you have no mind to. But some of the other members of the Commonwealth cannot be expected to see the thing through quite the same spectacles. In Africa and Asia up to a few years ago, men and women have themselves been subjected to the colour bar. They suffered from the humiliations of white dominion quite frequently inflicted without the smallest intention of wounding. I do not know, not being an anthropologist, how similar racially the Ghanaian or Nigerian may be to the so-called Bantu peoples of South Africa. What I do know is that they look much the same. What I do know is that they feel exactly the same. And so great is the legacy of resentment left in the heart of almost every Asian (who is admittedly most dissimilar from the African racially) that every person in the world who is not basically and self-consciously European in origin is bound to take up a more or less positive attitude of condemnation, coupled with a strong emotion of indignation, at the picture of a white population demanding indefinite superiority over coloured.

Whilst I think it would be disgusting in us to seek to condemn others for a sin we are not ourselves tempted to commit in this country, we do no kindness to anyone by concealing our opinion that they are bound upon a course of action which is certain to lead themselves to disaster and their friends, among whom I gladly count myself, to embarrassment and shame. However much we may wish to avoid discussion of the internal policies of other Governments, we deceive ourselves if we think that we can hold this line indefinitely in the face of Governments whose policy is based on a generalised doctrine of racial superiority.

My Lords, that brings me to the third question. It would be idle to pretend that the withdrawal from the Commonwealth will not affect relationships between our two countries. It is impossible in all respects to have the best of both worlds, all the advantages of Commonwealth membership without any of the reality. Exactly how far-reaching that change will be, of course, time alone will show. That is why the positive decision of the Government has been to decide to bring in a standstill measure so that we may have time to think in an atmosphere of friendliness and toleration exactly what our course should be. I am convinced that, whatever we may think, it is our duty to limit the evil which this situation has brought about. It is no part of our duty to use our disagreement on one aspect of policy for seeking to breed insecurity or poverty or unemployment, either here or in South Africa, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. That would indeed be certain to cast out Satan by invoking Beelzebub.

My Lords, membership of the sterling area is not dependent on Commonwealth membership, as the presence within the sterling area of Burma, Iceland. Ireland and, formerly I think, Iraq can testify—and Libya and Jordan; and also, in the contrary sense, the absence from the sterling area of Canada. The financial arrangements between South Africa and London are not dependent upon Commonwealth relationship either.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? Is it to be understood that South Africa will be unable to apply tariffs against exports from this country, as in the case of Eire?


I was about to deal with the economic arrangements. I was talking at this stage about the financial arrangements. If I may complete this, our defence arrangements are based on a bilateral exchange of Notes, and the mere fact of leaving the Commonwealth has no impact on these. Of course, as my noble friend has reminded us, our economic relationships are governed by the Ottawa Agreements which do not depend on Commonwealth membership but on bilateral arrangements between the countries and are, in any event, terminable only on six months' notice. I have inquired, and have ascertained, that what I had previously feared—namely, that the G.A.T.T. arrangements might intervene—is not in fact held to be the case.

Even more important, our obligations to our African fellow citizens in High Commission Territories remain, and we must maintain relations with the South African Government which permit us to discharge them honourably, remembering that it would be quite impossible to discharge them by force or in an atmosphere of Obviously, there are difficult, and perhaps painful, question of status and citizenship which will also need decision. They will need discussion in an atmosphere of calm and giving time for public opinion to manifest itself. There are people all over the world who may be affected by this—not only in South Africa, nor only in this country; but people all over the world who may have to make a painful choice of allegiance. Moreover, there are some who think that the Irish solution would be the one to apply. It is not for me at this stage to say what public opinion on both sides will ultimately be; that is why we decided to follow the precedent of the far less complex case of Cyprus, and to pass standstill legislation which will give us time to think and act with deliberation. If we could not part with South Africa without a pang, surely it is our duty to maintain with her such kindness and such closeness as the circumstances legitimately permit.

I come now to the fourth question—the future of the Commonwealth; of course, the most important of all. It would, I think, be a mistake to paint a picture of unrelieved gloom. This is a melancholy harvest, but there are some positive blessings to be garnered from it. Whatever else is true, Britain is seen to have been prepared to suffer a grievous diminution rather than that the Commonwealth should founder on the rock of apartheid. Fears have been expressed that the events which have taken place will lead to a series of, I might almost call them, witch-hunts which will ultimately engulf, one after the other, every single member of the Commonwealth, for different reasons. I do not believe that this is necessarily the case. We must be careful to see that it does not happen. After all, we can consistently stand for the principle of toleration of which I spoke at the beginning.

There is, of course, no nation in the world, not even our own, which is entirely invulnerable to attack on some of the counts which have been used against South Africa. Nevertheless, I do not myself admit that this need lead us to undiluted gloom. I do not think that these criticisms; really take account of the characteristic nature of apartheid, which I tried to explain a few moments ago. Moreover, events seldom follow an exactly logical pattern.

What brought about the present crisis was not so much apartheid itself as the complete unwillingness of its advocates to admit, even to the smallest possible degree, the possibility of compromise or relaxation. Moreover, if South Africa had not quite deliberately put her own membership in question by exercising her quite undoubted right to declare a Republic, the crisis would certainly have not arisen now, or in the form which it did. If, having done so, at the recent Conference her Government had been prepared to give even the smallest assistance to those who were prepared to fight for toleration, I do not believe matters would have gone to the length they have. In the end, uncompromising adherence to an untenable principle brought about the unrelenting opposition to it which is the invariable reward of those in whom there is no element of give and take. There is, at least as yet. no reason to suppose that this situation will be reproduced in any other given case. At all events, I should say, let our influence be thrown into the scales on the side of toleration in any future instance as it has been in the present.

It would be idle to pretend that what has happened will not have its repercussions on our relations elsewhere in Africa and Asia. But it would be a mistake to regard these repercussions as altogether bad. I believe that in West Africa—especially in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and in the former French territories—the immediate effect will, on balance, be good. It is too early to estimate the consequences in Central Africa, East Africa and Kenya, but I hope that there, both among Africans and among Europeans, the following reflection will be made.

I do not believe that it is in the nature of this country ever voluntarily to abandon its own kith and kin. But it is not possible in the latter part of the twentieth century, even in the cordial atmosphere of the Commonwealth, still less in the far chillier environment of general international relations, to justify, or even to maintain, except by force, except in absolute isolation, a policy based on domination by white over black. And if some are tempted, as some may be, to think that even that price, that isolation, that maintenance of power by force, is really a feasible alternative over a period of time, I would recommend them to weigh the consequences of such a policy.

So far, across Africa there is no armed frontier, not in the sense in which we know it all too familiarly in Europe. So far, precariously, but still so far, the cold war has been prevented from taking real root. But let us not think that that could not happen. If it did, across the whole of Africa, from the North and East down to the South and West, an armed frontier could emerge; on the West and North an armed frontier of indigenous African nations, supported by Eastern technicians and perhaps Czechoslovak arms, harbouring within their hearts feelings of hatred towards those on the other side of the border. That is a hideous nightmare. It has not happened; and one reason, at least, why it has not happened, is that there is, on the other side, a multi-racial Commonwealth, diminished but still intact, and the image of an undefeated Britain and her whole ideal of racial partnership and her championship of humanity as such. In this crisis of human history it would be disastrous if we allowed our own country to lose her nerve, her ideals and her spirit of tolerance or her friends. I beg to move the Motion on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House takes note of the withdrawal of the application of the Prime Minister of South Africa for the Union of South Africa to remain a member of the Commonwealth after his country becomes a Republic on May 31 next.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, one cannot help but think that the feeling in this House—as obviously it was in another place last night, in the debate to which I listened for a very long time—is a common feeling among us which joins with the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister in saying that, whatever else we may have in view, the actual event of the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth is a very sad one. We in this House probably will have to search hard to find a Member of it who has not, in some connection or other, actual family relationships among the white people of South Africa and contiguous territories; and all of us have been in close touch with them, if not privileged, as some have been, to make personal visits, at least in correspondence. From that point of view, therefore, we are sad about the break.

On the other hand, I believe a majority of people in this country will regard the break as largely the responsibility of the South African Government, and it cannot possibly interfere with our general view that the basis of the Commonwealth is that of a great association of peoples, and not merely an association of Governments. I doubt whether there is any considerable opinion anywhere, either in this country or throughout the Commonwealth, which would wish to see permanently the maintenance of the kind of bitterness which has arisen in the last few years with regard to the situation in South Africa. Rather would it, on the contrary, hope to see a change in the attitude of the Government of the day, whatever it might be, so that the general view and administrative practice of South Africa might be brought more into line with the developing ideas of the duties of members of the Commonwealth as a whole, when we recollect their adhesion to the Charter of the United Nations and their actual promise, when they joined, to maintain human rights.

I do not propose to speak at any great length this afternoon, and I shall apologise to the House at once for the fact that I cannot remain, owing to a longstanding speaking engagement in the country. I would, however, say this in regard to the manner in which the noble and learned Viscount has introduced the Motion to-day and the questions he put to himself to answer at the beginning: I do not think anyone wishes to blame the Prime Minister for doing his utmost, up to the end, to try to come to such an agreement, if it could be made without sacrifice of principle, as would have retained South Africa within the Commonwealth. I do not think we would dispute that for a moment. But I do not believe that any who have participated in conferences and debates on this matter from time to time in the last ten years would disagree with what he really indicated: that is, that the unshakable resolve of the South African Government as to the policy which it had been pursuing, and would continue to pursue, made it pretty hopeless that even the gallant attempt of the Prime Minister in this connection could have succeeded.

I believe the noble and learned Viscount, in the special tribute he paid to Dr. Verwoerd, is right, if he confines it in the main to the general courteous nature of the exchanges which took place in a fairly tense situation, and to the fact that he himself was the initiator of the final break by withdrawing his application for the readmission of South Africa into the Commonwealth when she becomes a republic. That certainly saved this country and a good many other members of the Commonwealth from a great deal of possible embarrassment; and I believe we should agree with the noble and learned Viscount in saying that we can pay a tribute to Dr Verwoerd in that particular regard.

Nevertheless, nearly all the issues—not all, but nearly all—which arise, cut clean across Parties in this country. It is not a question of this Party holding that view and another Party holding another view; because when we come down to "brass tacks" (as they say in Yorkshire) there are certain fundamental human principles which from time to time emerge with the greatest possible support in all Parties of the State. When we look at the position, I feel sure that this country will regard the withdrawal of the South African Government, as a Government, without regret, but will regret to the utmost that the people of South Africa in general have been placed in the position of having to allow such a decision to be made, even if it was finally made by the South African Prime Minister himself. As regards the future, may I say that I hope that in one part of his speech the noble and learned Viscount was speaking about the people of South Africa as the whole population, including the coloured races—


Yes, I was.


—because at that moment I felt I wanted to get up and say, "Of course you are including the lot." The noble and learned Viscount will understand what I mean. The future must lie with the whole of the population there, at some time or other. I remember speaking at a meeting in, I believe, 1932 when Mussolini invaded Albania, and I do not think it is too personal to put on record what I said at that meeting, on a Sunday morning just after the announcement had been made: Men will be free, and he will fight till he is free. We know what has happened to Mussolini, so that little philosophising then seems to have been justified in the event. With regard to the whole population of Africa, including the white and coloured people in South Africa, the principle of human freedom is bound, in the end, to survive, because man will fight until he is free.

While I do not wish to paint the kind of picture painted by the noble and learned Viscount as to what might be the actual area and context of the struggle promoted from many different sources in Africa in the future if a change is not made, nevertheless I feel that the British Commonwealth of Nations, under different Governments in this country, has made steps for the emancipation of hitherto subject races within the Commonwealth which have rendered far more service in avoiding that kind of eventuality than anything else which has taken place in our lifetime. The growth of complete freedom, irrespective of race, religion or colour, in the course of those developments has meant, perhaps, the erection of a bulwark against this chapter of South African experience in other areas of the Commonwealth and the world.

There are, however, one or two other things I should like to say. I must warn the noble Viscount that we have one or two points of criticism. I take 100 Per cent., first of all, the mariner in which the Prime Minister referred to the changing aspects of the Commonwealth in the last few years. I made up my mind when I was listening to him last night that I would make a note of one particular short passage (if I may be allowed to quote) with regard to the Commonwealth association and the future, which is this: This association must depend, not on the old concept of a common allegiance but upon thy: new principle of a common idealism. All that the noble Viscount has said this afternoon about the policy of the South African Government on apartheid, which was converting it into almost a new philosophy or even a kind of religion, I see clearly. I also see clearly that the Prime Minister does not accept that at all. He says that the future of the Commonwealth depends upon a common idealism; and there is no part in apartheid in which we can find a common idealism for the Government and ourselves. On the contrary, it entirely defeats us. My point of criticism is that, although the Prime Minister has undoubtedly, I feel, done his best in his own Party political difficulties (because he has them, from time to time) and made endeavours to bring pressure upon South African opinion, as for example in his speech in South Africa on "the wind of change" and in other respects—he has done his best—there are other aspects of Government action that might have helped, perhaps, a little more.

Take, for example, the matter which was raised last night by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place. What has been the actual result of the action of the Government or the pressure of the Government upon South Africa, following their action in South-West Africa? Here is a curious situation concerning one of the territories that came into the pool for distribution as a result of the First Great War. We had quite a number of mandates handed to us, which we carried out; but one which comes under the legal language of the granting of a mandate from the old League of Nations, now the United Nations, has had to be made to South Africa through his Britannic Majesty. What a contrast in the way the mandate is being carried out in South-West Africa by the South African Government, compared to what has been our attitude, policy and achievement in other mandated territories which were handed to the British Crown by the League of Nations! To have established this policy of apartheid in South-West Africa has brought South Africa's mandatory policy into complete contempt and abhorrence in the United Nations.

Yet what do we find has been the attitude of our Government when the matter has been brought up for challenge in the United Nations? Over and over again, over a long period, their attitude has been one of merely looking on and abstaining. It is not possible, of course, for me to say whether in between these various incidents in the United Nations conferences and pressures were attempted by Her Majesty's Government, so I do not want to condemn them too much in detail on it. But if we come to the more recent period, which was mentioned by my right honourable friend and Leader last night—I think it needs to be said in your Lordships' House as well—we find, if we take the date of December 15 last, not very long ago, that there was a House of Commons Resolution, without any vote against, in the following terms: That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take action in the United Nations and in the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference to ensure that the Government of South Africa carries out the solemn obligations it undertook in accepting the mandate for South-West Africa, or surrenders it to the United Nations so that alternative trusteeship arrangements can be made. What has happened about that? Later, Questions were asked in the other place and nothing transpired. On December 18, 1960, at the United Nations Assembly, 90 votes were cast in favour of, and none against, a resolution condemning the application of apartheid in South-West Africa—condemning it altogether.

Later on, on March 3, 1961, 25 Labour Members of Parliament, including Mr. Hilary Marquand, who has pretty good experience in this sphere, tabled a Motion asking the British Government to give effect to the Commons Resolution of December 15. On March 13 the Trusteeship Committee of the General Assembly passed a resolution, by 68 votes to none, with 12 abstentions, calling on the members of the United Nations having close and continuous relations with the Government' of the Dominion of South Africa", as a matter of urgency, to bring all their moral influence to bear on that Government, so as to ensure that it adjusts its conduct in the territory of South-West Africa to its obligations under the Charter of the United Nations. It was debated for two days and there was a refusal on the part of the Union Government to allow a nine-nation Committee to visit South-West Africa, on the ground that the matter was sub judice in the International Court. Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ghana abstained on this occasion. Mr. Braine explained that the vote was taken at very short notice, and the United Kingdom delegation explained that they had had no time to obtain instructions. But on March 16—only a few days ago—when the resolution came up before the General Assembly Britain again abstained, whereas Canada, New Zealand and Ghana, who previously had abstained, all voted for the resolution. We were still silent, doing nothing on behalf of the people of this country.

I hope that now, in the new circumstances, we are going to see an end to that attitude. Of course, one can understand that so long as nations are within the Commonwealth of Nations and follow its general kind of principles and idealism, as was mentioned by the Prime Minister, one desires to try to spare them all the embarrassment one possibly can within such a conference procedure as that of the United Nations. But if we once give way, as a nation which has 'perhaps done more as a single nation than any other country in the world in its history in standing for freedom and human rights, we shall be losing our influence in the world very badly indeed.

I should like to say a word about the immediate arrangements which have been proposed. The idea of having a Bill, as a stopgap Statute, really to maintain a status quo in the matters which were raised, for example, by the noble Viscount opposite just now, until conversations have gone further, is something we can understand as being a convenient method of procedure. But I hope that when they come to the actual decisions arising out of such a conference some special matters may have attention. I think, for example, that we should be very concerned to get what is best for the High Commission Territories. I concede at once that, judging from the language of the noble Viscount, he expects that something will be done in that connection. Among the most skilled workers of a native character who go into South Africa to work in the mines are the natives of Basutoland, who are very expert in driving and boring in the mines; so there is always bound to be, for the good of South Africa as well as of ourselves, continuous travel between the two places.

Then there is the question of Customs. At present, there is a special arrangement under which the Customs are collected by, I think, the South African authorities; and, so far as any of them may be due to the High Commission Territories, there is the question of who is going to act for us once there is the change of status of South Africa from a Commonwealth nation into a foreign nation. We shall, I take it, need to have an Ambassador in South Africa; and I should have thought that it would not have been the most convenient arrangement (and certainly not the best arrangement, in our view) to have control by the home Government here, through an Ambassador in Cape Town, of action to be taken in the High Commission Territories. I should have thought it would be necessary to put matters relating to the High Commission Territories under a different control, possibly that of the Colonial Office, and to have a separate chief official (whether you call him Governor, or what, I do not know) in the High Commission Territory—but certainly to have a separate arrangement in that connection. I hope that that matter, at any rate, will be looked at very carefully.

I hope, especially, that we shall seek to keep our friendship with all those in South Africa who will have to bear a great deal of trouble and anxiety at seeing prosecuted to its entirety the policy of apartheid with which they personally do not agree. From that, will arise the other difficult question of citizenship and what line we are going to take in giving British citizenship to those who may desire it, knowing that, whatever policy is decided, if, in certain cases, we issue passports of South African or British origin, it may mean the stopping, after the first journey, of any return, because there is not full reciprocity on both sides. I hope that all those matters will be looked at very carefully indeed.

I close by saying that I certainly do not object to the words chosen by the noble Viscount with regard to our future relations to South Africa itself. It must depend upon whether the Government of South Africa may in the future he led to a far more liberal policy with regard to human rights than exists at the present time. There can be no possibility of securing a majority view through the nations in the Commonwealth Conference with regard to readmission unless that change actually takes place. When you look at the opinions expressed by, say, the Church of England Bishop of the Provinces in South Africa, or the members of the Church of England in South Africa that stick to the 1660 Prayer Book, or any of the other religious views expressed in South Africa, you see that there is a considerable body of opinion that is right behind the views that were expressed about apartheid at the Commonwealth Premiers' Conference. I myself pray that there will come a time in the affairs of South Africa when not only will she want to come back, but perhaps she will realise, for the first time, how the spirit that: actuated the settlement of 1906 has never departed from the mind of the British people. If she can come to the same views on humanity as we desire to see promulgated right through the British Commonwealth of Nations, then the open door and, as the noble Viscount mentioned, the right hand of fellowship, will be there.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, it is, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, the duty of those who sit in formal but responsible, and never, I hope, total opposition to Her Majesty's Government to register their disagreement—sometimes profound, sometimes selective and sometimes superficial, but still sincere—with proposals or actions taken or not taken by the Government for the country. With regard to the matter now before us, the decision of South Africa not to remain a member of the Commonwealth, I personally would absolve Her Majesty's Government from taking or accepting a line which is not quite in accord with the general but sorrowful feeling of the people of this country. A crisis arose which, of course, has been boiling up for a long time, and during that long time circumstances virtually took the control out of the hands of the people concerned; and now we are faced with a fait accompli, to the rather shocked surprise of everybody.

I think, my Lords, that for one thing we should be grateful: there has been no victory. No responsible faction can boast that it has outwitted or scored off anybody else. Nobody has done anything particularly clever to gain a trick or score a doubtful point. We have a genuine sadness at losing intimate contact, as fellow British subjects, with our South African cousins, who were always particularly welcome when they came as visitors to our country. Nor do we forget the very high regard we had for them in two great wars, for their pleasant companionship, their great valour and their reliability. Those were days when we had only one common cause, and internal politics did not strike a jarring note between us.

Today, the South African Government have decided to continue a racial policy which, in the words of the Archbishop of Cape Town, is morally corroding, economically suicidal, politically senile and theologically indefensible. My Lords, those are strong words; and now that the division has come, they stand as the unwelcome barrier between us. We have many new problems to face now that the situation has developed as it has done, and I am glad to think that a time of peace and quiet will come when we are not arguing the toss about immediate things. Among the matters we have particularly to look at, as the noble Viscount mentioned, are the High Commission Territories, not only as to the economic aspect to which he referred, but also in relation to asylum, either to or from those places.

No responsible body of thought, I think, can be unsympathetic to the position of the white population of South Africa, who indeed stand to lose gravely in material ways by the inexorable evolution of progress: but they must not forget King Canute. On the other hand, no responsible body of thought can condone the repression and underprivilege of the non-whites which, in the eves of the civilised word, is no longer tolerable. But the crisis is so recent that I think that at this stage recrimination is neither helpful nor constructive. All nations make mistakes, and our great hope is that, now that the friction and irritation of failing to agree are removed from the forefront of our dealings with South Africa, a period of contemplation and re-assessment in that great territory will soon lead to a changed outlook in accord with universal, civilised, liberal thought. If it does not, catastrophe lies ahead; but if pit does, we shall most gladly welcome the day when we can again loin hands in the advancement of civilisation.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, only a few days ago we had a debate in your Lordships' House on one aspect of the affairs of the British Commonwealth of Nations; now, this week, we find ourselves taking part in yet another, introduced by the eloquent speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to which we listened earlier in the afternoon. Nor, my Lords, I think, is it surprising that there should have been this second debate, for the problems of the Commonwealth, I am sure we should all agree, are becoming, month by month, and almost week by week, more complex and more baffling. Indeed, one might almost say that the last twelve months may well prove the most fateful, for good or ill, that there has been in the whole history of that great institution.

When I first became directly connected with Commonwealth affairs as Secretary of State fox the Dominions, about twenty years 'ago, it was a far more homogenous body (if I may so express it) than it is to-day, and, therefore, far easier to work. There were only five members in those days. There were ourselves, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa—all nations linked by a common loyalty to the Crown. Moreover, all of these Governments were of European, and predominantly British, stock. They had the same kind of background, the same traditions; and though on individual questions they might, and did of course, differ, on all the really great issues their viewpoint was always likely to be about the same. And, above all, each and every one of those five Governments accepted it as a cardinal principle that they should not interfere in each other's internal affairs.

Since then, my Lords, as we all know, changes have occurred of so fundamental a nature as altogether to transform the character of this institution. We have seen State after State—and I am not saying this in any spirit of criticism; it is the policy of all Parties alike—climb to the top of the ladder of self-government and emerge as fully-fledged members of the Commonwealth. The majority of these new members are not, like the foundation members, of British, or even. European, origin and outlook. India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Ghana, Nigeria, perhaps even Cyprus, are different in very many respects—in their history, in their traditions, in their general approach to life—from the members of the Commonwealth that I knew so well twenty years ago.

Already to-day, the member States which are of British or even of European origin are in a minority; and with the advent of Tanganyika and Sierra Leone, and in future, presumably, Kenya, they will still be in a very small minority. And now, within the last few days, the European content of the Commonwealth has been yet further reduced by the departure from it of the Union of South Africa. In these circumstances, whatever our general views, it is well, I think, that we should take the opportunity of taking stock of the position which we are reaching in this regard.

Much has gone. First, the common allegiance to the Crown, which was one of the main links twenty years ago; and, to my mind, the most important link of all, more important even than the common idealism, of which the noble Viscount spoke just now—and I am not quite certain that we even have that. The common allegiance to the Crown, then, has gone. Secondly, the predominantly British character of the Commonwealth, which made it natural for us to call it the British family of nations, has also gone. All these things, my Lords, have passed away, and it was these things, above all, which in the past gave the British Commonwealth its main influence in the world.

In these circumstances, I repeat that it is surely right to ask ourselves frankly objectively and fearlessly: Does there remain enough common ground to hold the Commonwealth together, and enable it still to exert its old influence for good in the affairs of the world? Does that influence still exist in its new form? With regard to these questions, there seem to be two schools of thought. There is, first, that which I think may be said to have been represented by the Prime Minister, and also by the noble Viscount who spoke this afternoon. Though the Prime Minister, I am sure, regrets the departure of the Union from the British Commonwealth as much as any one of us—I am quite certain he has done his best to prevent it, and that, [think, is confirmed by the speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham made this afternoon—with his usual optimism he still believes, I think, that all will be well. He spoke quite recently at a big public meeting of the "rebirth" of a new Commonwealth, as strong as, or stronger than, the old one. The Commonwealth Secretary repeated very much the same words yesterday afternoon in another place. Dr. Verwoerd, on the other hand, perhaps understandably in the circumstances in which he spoke, takes exactly the opposite view. He regards what has happened at the meeting of Prime Ministers which has just concluded as "the beginning of the end of the Commonwealth", merely precedent to its total collapse. He believes that it is the first sign of its crumbling into ruin.

My Lords, what do the rest of us feel? Where do we stand? Do we belong to the school of optimists, or the pessimists? Presumably, I take it that, as in other matters, some belong to one school and some to another. Personally, for what my view is worth, I believe that the Commonwealth can survive, though whether as strong as it was in the old days or not, I do not know. But it will depend, I am very sure, on one thing, and one thing only: it will depend on whether all the members of the Commonwealth are able and willing to make it a cardinal principle of their association (as they have always done in the past) that neither the Commonwealth as a whole nor the member States individually shall interfere in the internal affairs of their fellow members, however strongly they may feel about one or other aspect of the domestic policies of those members.

Take apartheid, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, very naturally spoke. That is not only an extremely topical instance, but as good an example as any I can think of of what I mean. This is not an occasion, of course, for going at great length or in great detail into the merits or demerits of apartheid, but I can say this. We all know that the Souh African Government regard apartheid as morally and practically right. Most of us in this country—I expect nearly all of us in this Chamber—find repugnant a system which seems to require, almost as a moral principle, that one section of the population, just because of its race, must remain permanently in some important respects inferior to another. Some of us, indeed, may well go so far as to feel that, in a multi-racial State, it is impossible to ignore the fact that some sections of the population are less advanced, less mature, than other sections, and that a period of education may be necessary before the more primitive sections can be regarded in all respects as entirely the equal of the other section. Frankly, I feel that myself. But however much we may differ as to the pace and the method of advance, practically everyone here, I am sure, will agree that complete equality must be the ultimate goal for which we are all working.

In institutions like the Commonwealth, containing member States of very differing origins and standards, it is perhaps inevitable that differences, and maybe very deep differences, should crop up between a country like the Union of South Africa, which practises apartheid, and the other members of the Commonwealth, who have views poles apart from hers. But does that justify the other members who disagree with South Africa ganging up against her in that matter, which is, after all, I believe, essentially one of internal policy in this important sense, that it affects only those who live within her own borders, and trying to force her either to drop her policy or clear out. Does it justify their doing that? If it does, then I suggest that we must all of us accept an entirely new conception of the relationship which should exist between members of the Commonwealth.

I am told (and both the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, went very near to saying it) that the principle of absolute equality is sui generis—like nothing else; a principle that transcends all boundaries as no other principle does, and therefore can never be regarded as domestic. My answer would be: I simply do not agree. I do not regard it as sui generis at all. There are other principles, I believe, just as important, to which exactly the same arguments could be said to apply. I will give one instance to your Lordships of what I mean. There is the principle of freedom of movement of all races within the territories of the Commonwealth.

We in this country (I do not say that we are right or wrong, but merely state it as a fact) admit entry into our country of all persons from within the Commonwealth, of whatever race, religion or colour, freely without any qualification or limitation whatsoever. And I have often heard that practice of ours defended in this House on grounds of moral principle. But not one other single member of the Commonwealth, with the exception, I think, of India, does what we do. In the territories of most members, the Governments enforce the most stringent regulations and limitations upon immigration, even from other members of the Commonwealth. If it is morally right for us to do what we do, why is there not the same moral obliga- tion on others? Yet nobody assumes that there is.

Or what about freedom of speech? That, surely, to British minds, is one of the greatest of all moral principles. Yet, as we know, there are very wide variations and limitations of freedom of speech within the territories of several—of more than one, at any rate—members of the Commonwealth. Yet all these things are accepted. I am not going to argue with regard to any of these examples that one point of view is right or that the other point of view is wrong. What I am arguing is that, whoever is right or whoever is wrong, once we begin to interfere with each other's internal affairs, we shall put too heavy a strain upon the Commonwealth, and it will fall to pieces. I believe that especially is that true of an institution so heterogeneous and so loosely connected as the Commonwealth has now become.

For that reason, while I fully recognise the great efforts that have been made by the Government here, and no doubt also by other members of the Commonwealth who were brad in our traditions, to avoid a final breach with South Africa, I believe that it would have been wiser to stand firmly, even rigidly, on the principle that there should be no interference, either by the Commonwealth as a whole or by individual members, in the domestic affairs of member States, and that we should have refused to budge, whatever the pressure that was brought upon us and whatever the results might have been. For I am profoundly convinced that that is the only firm ground on which we can stand and continue to stand.

I may be told that, if the Government had stood for that principle last week, it would have meant risking the loss to the Commonwealth of some or all of the new members and no doubt it is true that there would have been that risk—though in my view perhaps it was not such a desperate risk as some people seem to think. For, after all, the States in question, or at any rate most of them., are in the Commonwealth not for very strong reasons of sentiment, as were the old British nations, but for more material reasons, because it is convenient for them to be members. And that would still be true. I submit that it would have been less dangerous—and here I am bound to disagree with the noble Viscount the leader of the House—to risk the loss of some of those members than to risk the total collapse of the whole institution by weakening the only principle by which I believe it can ultimately survive.

I say frankly that, whatever my personal views are on apartheid, I deeply regret the departure of the Union of South Africa from our association of nations. Our connection with the Union has been a long one and an honourable one. At this time, do not let us forget the part that was played by South Africans in fighting by our side in both world wars. An old soldier wrote to me only yesterday these words: I recall the South African Brigade in the 9th Scottish Division capturing Delville Wood in the Battle of the Somme on July 15, 1916, with great gallantry, incurring severe casualties. Later, the French recognised their achievement by giving the terrain to South Africa—which she shows proudly as her property. My Regiment held the Wood against a heavy counter-attack and then relieved the same African Brigade on Vimy Ridge. We admired them for their fighting qualities and for their camaraderie. My Lords, in this moment of separation, do not let us forget these things. Do not let Sharpeville entirely wipe out from the mind of anyone the memories of Delville Wood. I repeat for the last time, do not let us fail to store in our hearts the one great lesson which I believe above all should be learned from this unhappy event.

I am sure that your Lordships will remember the definition of the British Commonwealth which first appeared in the Report of the Imperial Conference in 1926 and which still remains, even now, after 35 years, the broad basis of our joint relationship. I should like to quote the words: Autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another, in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Those splendid words, my Lords, enshrine two great principles through which the Commonwealth received from its inception the breath of life and on which its continued survival assuredly depends—freedom of association and a common loyalty to the Crown. Common loyalty to the Crown has already gone, and freedom of association, the right of every member to manage its own affairs in its own way, seems now to be gravely threatened.

I cannot but regret that the Government, however good their reasons, allowed a further breach in it to be made last week. I believe that we ought to have made it absolutely clear that the internal affairs of member States were not discussable at all. That would have represented, I believe, the true cause of tolerance; and if we had made that clear from the very beginning, I hope and think that the break, which the noble Viscount has regarded as inevitable, might yet have been avoided. But all is not yet lost, if we stand firm by that principle in future. I hope that that may happen. I want to say this last thing. I beg, if it is possible, that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham at the end of our debate to-day, will give full assurances of the attachment of the Government to this great principle. For, if we once abandon that ground. I gravely fear that the Commonwealth will be unable to survive the strains that are likely to be put upon it in the testing years that lie ahead.