HL Deb 03 June 1964 vol 258 cc487-9

2.40 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make regarding the recent Conference between Her Majesty's Government and the Basutoland Constitutional Negotiating Committee.]


My Lords, as your Lordships will be aware, a statement was made in another place by my right honourable friend at the conclusion of the Basutoland Conference on May 15. Your Lordships' House rose on May 14, and I think it may therefore be convenient if I repeat now my right honourable friend's statement. The Conference completed its work in the early hours of this morning"— that was May 15— and we have just this moment signed our report. Agreement has been reached on the introduction of a new Constitution which will be followed by independence a year later, if the desire for it is confirmed by the people of Basutoland through their Parliament or through a referendum. On independence, it is intended that the Paramount Chief should become Head of State. Prior to independence, he will be Her Majesty's Representative in the territory. During this interim stage, the British Government's Representative will be responsible for external affairs, defence and internal security. and for the time being, for the public service He will also have the necessary powers to ensure proper financial administration. There will be a Legislature composed of a Lower House, elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage and a Senate with delaying powers composed of the Principal Chiefs and persons nominated by the Paramount Chief. The Constitution will, of course, contain safeguards for Human Rights. Our policy will be based on the expectation that the Basutos will confirm their request for independence one year after the elections are held under the new Constitution. In the interval, we shall delegate to the elected Basutoland Government responsibilities in regard to external affairs and internal security as fully and as quickly as circumstances allow. We shall also take steps to increase the number of locally enlisted public servants. The report of the Conference, including the outline of the draft Constitution, will be published at once, and will be presented to Parliament as a White Paper as soon as it can be printed. Your Lordships will also be aware that the White Paper referred to was presented to Parliament on May 27.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people think that this Conference was a model of good statesmanship? While congratulating the representatives of the Negotiating Committee and the Paramount Chief who came here from Basutoland, on the one hand, and the noble Marquess himself, on the other. upon results which were moderate, full of common sense and realistic, may I ask him two questions? One is whether the talks, which were foreshadowed in the White Paper to take place between these representatives and the Negotiating Committee as to the interim arrangements, are proceeding satisfactorily. The other question is whether, meantime, some steps have been taken in Basutoland to outline and delineate the constituencies and to prepare registers, in the hope that an election may be able to take place this year.


My Lords, I am much obliged for the observations of my noble friend. In reply to his first supplementary question, I can assure your Lordships that talks are proceeding satisfactorily. The Resident Commissioner returned immediately to Basutoland, and discussions are taking place. I do not wish to weary your Lordships, but there is a note at the end of the White Paper to which I should like your Lordships' attention to be drawn. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale would care to have a look at that as well. As regards the preparation for elections, the draft of a pilot Order ill Council to provide for elections has been prepared and is being considered by the Basutoland Government now. Every effort will be made by Her Majesty's Government to ensure that elections can lake place before the end of this year.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess whether he is aware that the satisfaction expressed by the noble Lord is shared on this side of the House and, indeed, both in this country and in Africa? We also appreciate very keenly the part he has played in this extremely satisfactory agreement with the representatives of Basutoland. May I ask him one further question? He talked about delegation of responsibility during the interim period. Will the present facilities for political refugees remain as they are in Basutoland, so long as Her Majesty's Government remain responsible—that is to say, until Basutoland becomes independent?


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl, and I will, of course, see that my right honourable friend's attention is drawn to what he has said. As regards the question of political refugees, the answer is, "Yes".