HL Deb 14 November 1961 vol 235 cc592-5

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether this would be a convenient moment for me to intervene and to report the statement which is being made at this moment by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place, relating to the Private Notice Question which was asked on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. The statement is as follows:

"I have considered, in consultation with my right honourable friends concerned, whether, with the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth, any change is desirable in the existing arrangements under which these responsibilities are discharged by the Commonwealth Secretary. I have come to the conclusion that the conduct of our relations with South Africa should properly be the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary. It will be transferred to him on December 1st. This will not affect the operation of the standstill arrangements provided by the Republic of South Africa (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1961.

"On the same date, responsibility for the High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland will be transferred to the Colonial Secretary.

"It is not proposed to change the present arrangement under which one man holds the posts of Ambassador in South Africa and High Commissioner for the Territories. In his capacity as Ambassador, he will be responsible to the Foreign Secretary, and, as High Commissioner, to the Colonial Secretary"

That, my Lords, is the statement.


My Lords, I am sorry my noble Leader is not here, but it strikes me at first sight that an individual who will be appointed as Ambassador will be in some difficulty in having to be answerable to two separate Ministers in two separate Departments, the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. I wonder whether the Government have given consideration to this point. Would it not be better either to appoint a separate person as the High Commissioner for the High Commission Territories of Basutoland and the other two; or, better still, would it not be better to appoint three separate persons as High Commissioners for each of the three Territories, answerable directly to the Colonial Office? These are matters which strike one at first sight, but I want to emphasise what looks to me like a very great inconvenience, where one individual has to be answerable to two different Departments.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies, may I say that the arrangement proposed is the very best in all the circumstances that could have been proposed? May I then ask him whether he would share with me an expression of thanks which are due to the Commonwealth Relations Office and to the many Secretaries of State of various Parties and their staffs, who have looked after our interests in South Africa and in these Territories for a great many years? May I ask him whether he would agree with me that, having regard to the inevitable close economic relations between these three Territories and the Republic of South Africa, which is particularly the case in Basutoland, it is desirable, and even necessary, that if possible one man should occupy these two posts? Are we not singularly fortunate in having in Sir John Maud, one of the ablest proconsuls of which this country has been proud?


My Lords, may I say, if I can frame it in the form of a question, that, having had responsibility for these Territories as one of the Secretaries of State to which my noble friend so kindly referred, this arrangement is unquestionably the right answer in the difficult circumstances? In the first place, is it not obviously right (I have got within the rules of order) that the Colonial Office should now have the responsibility for the detailed administration of these Territories, which are essentially colonial territories and are not in any way Dominions, if I may use the old phraseology, and which depend on grants-in-aid and so on, and in which, incidentally, the Colonial Development Corporation has a large number of extremely promising activities?

With regard to the post of High Commissioner, which on the face of it looks rather an odd one for an Ambassador to occupy, I would say this. Having had the responsibility of the administration of these Territories for a number of years, I want to say now, in this House, that I experienced every possible form of co-operation from the Union Government with regard to these Territories, when they could easily have blocked proposals and made things more difficult. For instance, the Territories share their customs revenue with the Union, which was most generous in its apportionment of the customs revenue to the Territories and also co-operated in a great many industrial, forestry and health services. It must obviously be right, however illogical it may seem, that the man who is our ambassadorial representative to South Africa should also be the man who has the responsibility of dealing with South Africa for these Territories.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friends Lord Swinton and Lord Fraser of Lonsdale for their endorsement of this arrangement and also to associate myself with, and to thank them for, their expressions of appreciation of the work of the Commonwealth Relations Office and for the valuable services done by Sir John Maud in this connection. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I would say that we thought over this matter carefully and came to the conclusion which both my noble friends have indicated to the House. We cannot overlook the circumstance that the economy and daily life of all three High Commission Territories are closely linked with those of South Africa. Experience has shown the advantages of combining the two posts in one holder. When a question has both a Territories aspect and a South African aspect, the one holder can balance them and reach a decision on official advice which takes both into account. In fact, the High Commissioner is advised by different officials in his different capacities. The fact that in his dealings with the South African Government he has to take into account his official responsibilities for the interest of the Territories is, we think, to the advantage of the Territories. Of course, the noble Lord will not be unaware that in another part of the world, though perhaps with very different considerations in mind, my noble friend Lord Selkirk exercises a dual capacity of a not wholly dissimilar kind.