HL Deb 24 May 1978 vol 392 cc1013-34

5.14 p.m.

Lord WIGG rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will relate the policies set out in Cmnd. 7186 The West Indian Community to the comments of the Minister of State of the Department of Education and Science, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, on 17th April about Mr. Basil Davidson's book Discovering Africa's Past. The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 2nd April, the Sunday Express published an article in which a recent book by Mr. Basil Davidson entitled Discovering Africa's Past, published by Longmans, was described as slanted. On 17th April the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, put down a Question for answer in your Lordships' House, in the following terms: To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to avoid the damage to race relations which will be done if the book Discovering Africa's Past (edited by Basil Davidson) is used in our schools".—[Official Report, 17/4/78; col. 872.]

The book was commissioned by Longmans. There is no need for me to add anything about the reputation that Longmans possess throughout the Western World—indeed, I would say throughout the whole world. They commissioned the book, they published it, and it was planned with the writer, not the editor. They consulted serious teachers in the field of multi-ethnic education, because it was a pioneering effort; new ground was to be broken. The book was designed to make available to teachers and pupils in the 14-plus range a reassessment of African culture and history using the materials which are now accepted and taught in all reputable universities throughout the Western World. Subsequently, when the Question came to be answered, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who answered for Her Majesty's Government, described the book. He said: When a book has out of 220 pages, about 20 which are clearly biased—and I admit that—I think it is desirable that classes which are given it to read should be given other books in an opposite sense as well".—[Official Report, 17/4/78; col. 873.]

That statement needs to be commented on, for, as I have said, Longmans planned and the author planned to break new ground. They consulted on a wide basis experts in the multi-ethnic field, and there are no other books. I will come back to this when I deal with the implied charges of Lord Donaldson in relation to the list for further reading. There are no other books, or very few indeed.

What Lord Donaldson feels about a matter and what he has to say in his personal capacity is entirely a matter for him. I have no comments to make on the personal views of any Member of your Lordships' House; that is his affair. I take this point up because Lord Donaldson is a Minister and when he speaks from the Dispatch Box he is not voicing his opinion; he is answering a Question which is put down to Her Majesty's Government. So if you find—and I suggest that I have found—a dichotomy between what Her Majesty's Government say in White Papers and what Lord Donaldson says, that needs to be explained.

Mr. Davidson is a man with an international reputation in the field of African studies. He was at some time Professor at the Universities of Ghana, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, a Fellow of the University of Birmingham, a Senior Research Fellow of the University of Manchester and an honorary D.Litt. of the University of Ibadan. So, just as Longmans have a very considerable, well-established and impeccable reputation in the field of publishing works of this character, Mr. Davidson also has a reputation so far untarnished by charges of bias or anything like that.

However, I am no expert and I am full of bias. Therefore, I took steps to check my views. The first approach I made was to a very old friend who until recently was editor of West Africa, a magazine which many of your Lordships know, again of established reputation, and a magazine which I would claim had served the interests of Britain and of Africa very well indeed. It has the highest reputation on an international scale, and particularly in the commercial field. Unfortunately, Mr. David Williams was in Africa, but in my approaches I did see "Matchet's Diary" in West Africa for 24th April, because they, too, had read the Question and the article in the Sunday Express.

As we are not limited for time in a debate of this kind, I shall read to your Lordships what Matchet had to say: Basil Davidson, writer, scholar and much-valued contributor to West Africa, is the centre of a storm in London over a book of his, Discovering Africa's Past, which Longman's has published in a special edition for schools … This was the subject of a hysterical and foolish attack in the Sunday Express under the heading 'New school textbook praises the brave Mau Mau'. It described the book as slanted' and objected to the unsympathetic account of Britain's involvement in the slave trade and colonialism, without any mention of David Livingstone and the role Britain played 'in helping the continent'. It also felt that Mau Mau murders and the atrocities of Amin were unfairly neglected. The article quoted Winston Churchill, a Conservative MP and grandson of the great Sir Winston, as saying that the book might 'increase racial prejudice'. It later transpired that Churchill"— like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge— had not read the book at the time, which made his allegation the more absurd". I interposed the words "like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge", because it is clear that he had not read the book: he had glanced at 20 pages of it some time later. The Matchet article goes on: More serious than this (for to be attacked by a newspaper like the Sunday Express is a sort of praise) were statements in the House of Lords by the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Lord Donaldson. He was replying to a hostile Tory question about the book, and although he praised Basil Davidson he did repeat and accept the allegation of 'bias'. Lord Donaldson said: 'Basil Davidson has been attacking British imperialism since the early' thirties, when I used to read him … though I think Mr. Basil Davidson could be described as biased he has never pretended not to be … When a book has, out of 200 pages, about 20 which are clearly biased—and I admit that—I think it is desirable that classes which are given it to read should be given other books in an opposite sense as well'. At the end Matchet says: Basil Davidson himself appeared in a television discussion of the book on the programme "Nationwide", confronting Winston Churchill with great assurance and good humour. He explained that his book was certainly the history of Africa from the African point of view, making use of the great recent advances in Archaeology, but … he denied allegations of bias: it was a work of careful and exact scholarship, he said".

I also consulted another authority. I wrote to a man whom I had never met, but I took advice on the matter. I was particularly glad that the name suggested to me was Mr. John Lonsdale, a tutor in African studies at Trinity College, Cambridge, because that college, of course, is not unknown to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. Needless to say, I read this letter with the permission of Mr. Lonsdale. I specifically asked him whether I could quote him. This is what he wrote: The book itself is vintage Davidson. For the past thirty years he has combined a personal commitment to Africa's freedom with a scholarly interest in her past. His historical perspective is naturally governed by his contemporary concern; it would be odd if it were not. Nevertheless, it is not mere pedantry which makes me prefer to call his work 'committed' rather than 'biased'. He certainly stresses the oppressive rather than the enlightening aspects of colonial rule but he is not prejudiced against those individuals who administered the colonial system. He writes (on page 198) of the 'sincere devotion' with which many colonial officials served their African subjects, and of their 'impartial justice' which, in the better colonies at least, Africans often came to prefer to the 'sometimes wayward or abusive practices of their own former rulers'. He has therefore, it seems to me, adhered to the best standards of historical scholarship in that, while he may have judged a particular situation harshly, he has nevertheless done justice to the people who found themselves in the middle of it". He goes on: Turning to the recommendations for Further Reading"— which was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, although needless to say I acquit him of the error in the printing of Hansardit might be said straight away that nine of the nearly fifty books recommended are by Davidson himself. (Lord Donaldson must have been misreported—in column 873 of the debate—as saying that 59 were by him.) There is very good reason for this predominance of Davidson's work. It is simply that nobody else has been as energetic in popularising, in the best sense, the scholarship which he also helps to pioneer. He has an enviable gift for the task which few academic historians possess. Any school history of Africa by any other author would be bound to include most if not all of these nine books in its list of Further Reading".

Mr. Lonsdale goes on: I have not read and cannot therefore comment on the books listed 'For Pupils'; but I cannot see how anybody could take exception to the 23 works listed 'For Teachers', save perhaps on the score—hardly to be expected from the tone of the debate—that it does not include enough representatives of the young, radical, critical school of African historiography. Apart from the eight by Davidson in this section, two are by African leaders, Nkrumah and Nyerere; eight would take the fairly conventional liberal view that the colonial period represented a whole complex of motives and consequences, some good, some bad and, on the whole, that it does not lend itself to easy moral judgments; four have nothing to say about the colonial period at all; only one could be said to represent a sustained critique of colonial exploitation".

As regards the subject of the "Further Reading" list, if further proof is necessary to demonstrate that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, had not examined the book with any great care, it arises from the fact that under "Further Reading" Long-mans are careful to point out that they acknowledge the help of Mrs. Margaret Killingray in compiling the list. Indeed, my inquiries show that the "Further Reading" list was not, as it were, drawn up by Mr. Basil Davidson at all—it was compiled by Mrs. Killingray. Mr. Davidson merely suggested a few books at the beginning.

My Lords, I did a number of additional things. I inquired whether there was a copy of the book in the Library. There was not. I communicated with Longmans and they sent a copy. Moreover, I went to the Leader of the House and ensured that he was supplied with a copy. I was glad that when he came to answer a Question to me he brought the book with him—that showed that my labours were not altogether in vain. I also invited the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to withdraw what he said, because he wrote to Mr. Davidson explaining that he did not mean "bias" in quite the sense that both Mr. Davidson and myself came to understand it. I could not accept and do not accept that, and that is why I have troubled your Lordships today.

It seems to me an elementary principle of public life that when a charge is made against a man publicly it must be publicly withdrawn. In my judgment a private withdrawal is just not good enough. On that principle I stand. It may well be that others of your Lordships will hold the view that, having made the charge of bias against a man of international reputation as high as that of Mr. Davidson, it was quite all right to write him a private letter and say, "Sorry, old boy, I did not quite mean that". However, for me that is not good enough. I often hit below the belt and when I do I try to say, "Sorry". I do not hit below the belt and then, as it were, send somebody a Christmas card.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, wrote to Mr. Davidson. Obviously, I have not asked him for permission to read the letter, but he made it clear—and this came out in a reply that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, gave me in the House—that he did not quite mean what he said. Mr. Davidson was kind enough to send me a copy of the letter he wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I have his permission to read it and I propose to do so. Mr. Davidson wrote in the following terms on 28th April: This whole affair is grievous and surprising to me. I read the Lords Hansard of 17 April"— which is the day I asked a Question about this matter— …with a serious concern to see that the scholarly credentials of my book had been called in question by you, my Lord, the Minister of State for Education and Science, and that you had three times accused me of bias: even going so far as to welcome … Lord Gridley's astonishing question, since ' will have done some good in so far as governors and heads of schools read our Hansard'. I find many of your words on 17 April all the more surprising and wounding in the light of the Home Office white paper, The West Radian Community (Cmnd. 7186), which also reached me in this morning's post, together with the Annex by your Department. There it is underscored that the school curriculum should now reflect 'the wide range of cultures, histories and lifestyles in our multi-racial society'; and that, to this end, 'the more informed teachers become about a wide range of cultures and communities, and the more possible it is for pupils to see their values reflected … the less likely is (their) alienation …' … The next paragraph on the same page expresses HMG's concern that minority group pupils should be encouraged by ' giving a proper and dignified place to the varied cultures that make up our present-day British Society'. It was precisely with these concerns in mind that my publishers and myself set about this book, consulted very serious teachers in the field of multi-ethnic education, and brought out our book. This hook was designed, and I think does, make available to teachers and pupils at the 14+ level the kind of reassessments of African culture and history, the kind of materials, that are now accepted, used and taught, my Lord, in all reputable universities in the western world. Yet this is the very book which you have deplored in the House of Lords, in your official capacity. But I believe that if you will look at the matter a little further you will find that our book is fully in line with sensible and moderate attitudes to the race problem; with the expressed policy of HMG; with the known needs of teachers and governors of schools; and with the belief—for which, I know, you yourself have always stood—that honesty and tolerance are vital guides to the solving of acute social problems".

Mr. Davidson then touches on his academic record, to which I have already referred. He says: I cannot think that my career and reputation could in any way allow, justify or support the words you have used in public to condemn my work for bias: in plain words, for conscious and deliberate misuse of evidence, which is what, in scholarly terms, the word bias must mean and is generally taken to mean. Nor can I understand why you should have wished to wound me in this way".

I invite your Lordships' attention to the White Paper that was published simultaneously, to which I have already referred. I shall read the two paragraphs which are the main reasons why I bring this matter to your Lordships' attention. This is what the Home Office said, and with it is the annex from the Department of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson: For the curriculum to have any meaning and relevance for all pupils now in our schools, its content, emphasis and the values and assumptions contained must reflect the wide range of cultures, histories and lifestyles in our multi-racial society. The more informed teachers become about a wider range of cultures and communities and the more possible it is for all pupils to see their values reflected in the concerns of schools, the less likely is the alienation from schools and indigenous society experienced by some minority group pupils. The necessary changes in attitude and curriculum are taking place and their spread should do much to encourage a secure sense of personal identity for minority pupils by giving a proper and dignified place to the varied cultures that make up present day British society".

I understand that the National Association for Multi-racial Education is meeting a Committee of another place which is looking into multiracial matters. I also understand that Mr. Davidson's book is to be held up as a model of the kind of thing that is needed.

There is one other matter to which I invite noble Lords' attention. In the article published in the Sunday Express a complaint was made that no mention was made of Idi Amin. Mr. Winston Churchill, a Member of another place, specifically raised this point. He said: How can one write a book on the history of Africa without even a footnote on Idi Amin?". I want to deal with that because it interests me greatly. I am a person who is gifted—sometimes I think cursed—with a very accurate memory. It has its advantages in connection with racing, and also to some extent with politics. Major-General Amin came to power on 26th January 1971. Obviously, if Mr. Davidson had written about Amin it would have dealt with seven years in the life of a Continent, in a book which starts with the Stone Age and covers 200 pages—the fact that he does not mention this or that is not a very damaging charge. But if he started to write about Idi Amin, obviously he would have to deal with the fact that Mr. Amin is a member of the Nilotic tribes of the North. One of the great tensions inside Uganda is the conflict between the Nilotic tribes and the Bantu. Mr. Obote was also a member of a Nilotic tribe. I am a child of bias, so I am not, as it were, worried about any of the inhibitions or the sense of unfairness which clearly worried Mr. Davidson.

If you start to write about Amin, how is it that he came to power? This is where my memory comes in. He came to power on 26th January 1971, the same day as a leading article appeared in the Daily Telegraph. What was its headline? It was "Good riddance to Obote". The Conservative Party welcomed it; hells rang out; Obote had gone; Amin had arrived. They went a little further: this might even be a talking point at the election. What else did they say? They referred to the shaky régimes of President Kaunda and President Nyerere in Zambia: How the shaky régimes … will react remain to be seen". That is not all. On 29th January Her Majesty's High Commissioner in Uganda attended a meeting addressed by the new Major-General and welcomed him; after all, Mr. Obote—the man who had been got rid of—had been a thorn in the side of Mr. Heath in Singapore. Indeed, Mr. Obote was on his way back from Singapore when he was deposed by Major-General Amin.

On the 26th Obote goes. The same day the Daily Telegraph welcomes his departure. But that is not all. Rumours were rife that Obote had been got rid of. The Israeli Government were charged. I do not think that there was a word of truth in it, but needless to say it was said that the CIA and the British Foreign Office had had a hand in it. I doubt whether the Foreign Office had had a hand in it, because it looks as though the operation was competently carried out and it is therefore unlikely that MI6 had anything to do with it, judging by usual form.

What did happen? As I say, three days later, the High Commissioner, Mr. Slater, was attending a conference addressed by the Major-General. Then, tucked away on 5th January, there was an Answer to a Written Question. The Written Question was put down by Mr. Wall and Mr. Cormack to the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Anthony Kershaw. Her Majesty's Government had recognised Idi Amin. It is not that I am saying that they have not changed their views: I am giving an explanation as to why it would be difficult for a man as unbiased as Mr. Davidson to write about Mr. Amin.

I come to this point. I believe that one of the important things that have happened to the Western world is contained in a book written by Mr. Alec Hailey called Roots. Those of your Lordships who have not read it should take note of the impact of Roots right throughout America, particularly amongst the coloured community. What Mr. Hailey did was to research back seven generations, to that ancestor of his who was snatched, as a result of colonialism, from the Gambia River and carted off to America. There he was one ancestor of the many hundreds of thousands of black Americans who now owe an undoubted allegiance to the United States, but who are becoming conscious of something. They are becoming conscious of the fact that they had an identity; they had a culture; they had a history—and it was not merely the blessings of the white man that came to them and transformed them. The black man in Africa, in his home—yes, cut off—had a history of which he can be proud and of which he is now becoming conscious.

This finding of an identity with one's past is not, after all, something new, because many other races have done the same thing. The Jewish people have done it. They have retained their identity over the centuries. The Poles have done it. The Irish, the Welsh and the Scots have done it. There is this search for identity. This is a phenomenon of the modern world that has a lesson not only for the coloured community, but also for us. Soccer hooliganism is tied up with exactly the same thing—the search of the atomised individual, often rooted up from where he was brought up, put into a high-rise fiat, cut off from all associations apart from his own family, having different connections at work, at play and at home. He then seeks to find an identity with others. He does it often in a very violent way.

Therefore, I welcome the policy of Her Majesty's Government as expressed in Command 7816. I welcome it greatly. The only matter about which I wonder is this: just how sincere are the Government if a Minister for the same Department as brought out the White Paper—and is partly responsible for the White Paper setting out this policy—can come along and attack the reputation and standing of those who labour to make that policy work?

5.45 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House will reply for the Government to this Question. But, as I am the object which has inspired this long discourse from the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, I shall reply very shortly. I have no intention of answering the noble Lord's assertions in detail. I shall state my position, which is a very simple one, and leave it to the House to judge between us.

I have known of and respected Mr. Davidson as a serious historian and student of African affairs for a good many years. He has written many books and many articles and I have often read his writings. I have always regarded him as an effective polemical writer who wrote with a strong anti-imperialist bias, with which I very largely agreed. In particular, in the last 20 pages of his book—which were the ones of which the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, complained—he stressed, quite correctly, the commercial origins of imperialism, but he has perhaps tended to underestimate the good side of colonial administration. This is why I suggested, on this Question and Answer, that a head teacher might like his pupils, at the same time as they read Mr. Davidson's book, to look at the account by that very distinguished Left-Wing writer Leonard Woolf of his life as a district commissioner in Ceylon in the early part of the century.

The implications of all this do not seem to me to be in any way offensive. Gibbon wrote with an anti-Church bias, Macaulay with an anti-Tory bias; the noble Lord, Lord Blake, will not take it amiss if I say that his excellent biography of Disraeli has a distinct pro-Tory bias. So I was surprised when I heard that Mr. Davidson was offended by what I had said. It is one thing to annoy the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—that is an occupational risk in this House. But I had no intention of offending Mr. Davidson, and, though I think he was wrong to take offence, as soon as I heard that he was offended I wrote to say I was sorry, and I am happy to repeat that apology to him now.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg has raised this issue tonight. It is characteristic of him, when he feels that an injustice has been committed, to pursue it to the very last point. I had a personal experience of this. I was libelled on either the BBC or ITV—I forget which. I was not concerned. But the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was outraged by it and persisted until there was a public apology. It is characteristic that when he feels that an injustice has been done he should raise it in this way.

However, I want to say frankly that I do not agree with the criticism, in the strong way that he has made it, of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, when he was replying to the criticisms of the other side. I was present during that interchange. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, from the Front Bench, replied effectively to the criticism which came from the Tory Benches on that occasion.

The criticism tonight of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is that he used the word "bias". Are not we all biased? Was not the noble Lord, Lord Byers, absolutely correct when he said that he was biased towards the Liberal Party? Many of us try to write objectively. I have written a history of the colonial revolution. I am quite sure that many noble Lords on the other side would have regarded it as a very biased publication. It is a characteristic only of God-like impartiality to be able, even as a historian, to write without a certain bias resulting both from the environment in which the writer has grown up and from the views which he has developed in the course of his life. I for one do not want to be associated with criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for using the word "biased", for there is no-one, however objectively he seeks to write, who can avoid expression of his own attitude of mind.

However, when I have said that, I want to attack very strongly indeed the criticism which was made of this book from the Benches on the opposite side. I wondered, as I listened to that criticism, how many of the critics had read this book. I think I can make a guess that when they put their questions to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, they based those questions not on the contents of the book but on an article which appeared in the Sunday Express.

What were the criticisms of Mr. Basil Davidson which they made? The first was that he had described the Mau Mau movement in Kenya as, "a great farmers' rebellion". I was there. It was a great farmers' rebellion. It included abominable atrocities, but that phrase is absolutely accurate. I say that because I took some part in the negotiations which brought the Mau Mau movement to an end. The second criticism was that Mr. Basil Davidson did not specficially name General Amin in Uganda. Basil Davidson went very much further than that. He explicity condemned the new ruling groups in Africa as "corrupt and dictatorial".

The third criticism made of Mr. Basil Davidson's book was that he stated that Cecil Rhodes had made fortunes out of cheap black labour. Anyone with a knowledge of Africa knows that that is a very moderate criticism of Cecil Rhodes. His agents in what is now known as Rhodesia, as acknowledged by Roy Welensky, cheated the people of their land and their minerals for his private profit. I think Members on the opposite Benches should be grateful to Mr. Basil Davidson that he did not include that criticism.

Fourthly, Mr. Winston Churchill—and I say this with some regret because I have been associated with him in activity and I respect him—went so far as to claim that the book would "incite black school children to hate their white fellows in their classes". Mr. Winston Churchill could not possibly have read the book when he made a criticism of that kind.

The criticism is directed only towards the last 25 pages, devoted to "Colonialism and After"—25 pages in a book of 209 pages. The major part of the book tells with amazing detail and inescapable clarity the story of the development of the African peoples from the beginning of time, from the discovery of the earliest types of human being 3,700 years ago. As one who has tried to study these subjects, I can only express very humbly my admiration that anyone, even in a lifetime of concentration should have done the research and accumulated the knowledge which is in this book. No one has done for Europe, for Asia or for Australasia what Basil Davidson has done for Africa in this book. I say that our children and our children's children are fortunate that they will be able to study this book.

In truth this is not a history; it is a work of historical eminence, a work which in time will be valued at its true worth and which will put to shame the little critics who have voiced their opposition to it. I hope that the Ministry of Education will encourage the study of this book in our schools because from it they will learn a world perspective.

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, speak about Africa because, apart from the slight envy one feels of his vigour, manner and presentation, there is no one in this House who has had longer first-hand experience of Africa than the noble Lord, and judging from my own experience of West Africa there is no one more trusted, admired and respected by the Africans. I have addressed my few remarks this evening to the text of the Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and I have therefore tried to relate the comments of my noble friend Lord Donaldson on Mr. Davidson's book to the White Paper The West Indian Community, which is what my noble friend Lord Wigg has asked the Government to do.

My conclusion on reading the White Paper was that in fact the noble Lord's remarks and the White Paper are dealing with entirely different matters. That is why I could not face the contradiction alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. I cannot see a contradiction where there is no similarity. The White Paper is concerned mainly with facts about the present situation of the West Indian community in this country and the policies proposed by the Government to mitigate what the White Paper calls "racial disadvantage". The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, were not directed either to matters of fact or to matters of Government policy, but solely to a matter of historical judgment. Therefore I do not consider that these facts or these policies are really relevant to the question of historical judgment raised by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, on 17th April.

It was on that occasion that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, took the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to task for suggesting that Mr. Basil Davidson is biased as an historian of Africa. It is important to use the word "biased" in the same sense. I am not using it in a pejorative sense; I am using it, I hope, in the sense in which it is used by your Lordships in ordinary speech. I have myself read articles and books by Mr. Davidson, with much profit and pleasure. He writes from his own robust point of view, which is entirely opposed to colonialism and imperialism. My experience of Africa gave me a good opportunity to understand and appreciate this point of view as I lived for 3 years in Ghana shortly after independence, and became a close friend of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Your Lordships will remember that Dr. Nkrumah was among the leaders of the movement for African independence. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that Mr. Davidson has done a most valuable service to independent Africa by making Africans aware of their own history and heritage, and proud of their descent from civilisations often older than ours.

Many British historians, unfortunately, have written about Africa—not all British historians by any means, but many—from an opposite point of view, treating the history of British Africa as an extension of British history. This sometimes resulted in strange consequences, as I found in Ghana, among schoolchildren who knew much more about the Commonwealth than they knew about their Francophone African neighbours, even when they belonged to the same tribe and were separated only by a national boundary inherited from the carve-up of Africa. These children could sometimes name the the capital of Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, but not the capital of Togoland or the Ivory Coast.

Mr. Davidson, and a number of African authors, have corrected this nationalistic bias by showing colonial rule in its proper perspective as a brief episode in the long and varied history of Africa. But to say that Mr. Davidson is unbiased is to do less than justice to his robust point of view. After all, many of the best known historians have written history from their own point of view, and are none the less honoured for it. The facts they have chosen to record are those that interested them, and they have interpreted these facts in the light of their values and beliefs, and their whole attitude to life and society. I need not mention the names of the great historians—I think the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, mentioned two; Gibbon and Macaulay—but they run of course to Lord Acton, to Arnold Toynbee, and others whom I shall leave other noble Lords either to remember or mention. They have all written history in terms of their philosophy of life.

Of course one has to remember that in choosing the facts that interest him the historian is bound to leave out others that do not, and for a balanced assessment of events what he leaves out may be as important as what he selects. It could hardly be denied that Mr. Davidson says a good deal more about the vices than about the virtues of British colonial rule, and indeed that he omits much of the good (and I believe that there was much of it) that British rule has done in different parts of the world.

This does no harm, I think, so long as one is fully aware of the historian's point of view and makes the appropriate mental reservation about hearing the other side of the case. That is why I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for reminding us quite fairly, I thought, of the particular bias in Mr. Davidson's book about Africa. But I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Wigg will accept that in doing so the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has done justice and not injustice to a distinguished historian of Africa, and that there was not really anything in the slightest degree derogatory in what he said, or intended to say.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, time is being consumed and my noble friend Lord Brockway has said almost exactly what I would have said myself, and no doubt said it better. I told the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, immediately he came in at Question Time, that I had not regarded it as anything serious, or anything to be too unduly worried about. I told my very old and very respected friend Lord Wigg that I had done so. This may show some lack of moral fibre on my part, of which I am fully conscious, but I certainly did not think that anything serious had happened.

I have since read the book, which is a very good book. It is absolutely astonishing that such a criticism should be made of it. I think it is a good book. Curiously enough, I found myself rather casually investigating exactly the same field a few months ago in order to help a near relative who is a university student. I think I spoke to my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder about it. I certainly spoke to another of my noble friends who is studying ancient history, and I hope is going to make a further contribution to this subject. I shall not mention his name without his permission, although I am sure he would not object. It is a fascinating subject. One goes first to Herodotus and then almost essentially has to leap years to about the only real authorities, Leakey and his son, in Kenya, who were great anthropologists. You have the story of the original building of Zimbabwe, and the discovery of it, which is a fascinating subject. It is extremely well done.

So far as I know the only prejudice that the author really shows is that he is against the slave trade. Again, I think the author is being a little over pompous about it. It is a rough trade. Indeed, it was the fact that this is a rough and tough job that made me think I would be glad to join just for a brief time in this discussion. I was with my noble friend Lord Brockway at the time of Mau Mau. I remember when we got there that we saw the missionaries, who said, "Are you prepared to make an appeal to all for a cessation of violence?" We said, "Of course. That is one of the things we came for." They were quite astounded. We were Left Wing.

I hope that Mr. Michael Blundell, who is now a friend of both of us, will forgive my recalling from the past that he denounced my noble friend as a Communist in the State Legislature as we arrived. We were criticised, of course, everywhere. I do not think that those criticisms are made now even from extreme quarters. We did, as my noble friend told in his autobiography, meet Michael Blundell and really tried to produce an agreement. All this is not relevant to this debate, and I apologise in a sense for having strayed from the subject. I did myself make a personal offer to try to assist in a settlement, but I shall not go into that because I realise that it was something that the Minister could only accept with difficulty. I said that I would not open up the matter—although he is now long since dead. It is twenty years ago, and I had no complaint.

But of course the implication which goes with the statement is a quite serious matter. It is quite serious to a writer to suggest that he is Left Wing. I sec my noble and excellent friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, who might well have taken part in this discussion because he has spread the gospel of science, of reclamation, of reform, and so on, throughout the world. He has written some books that are masterpieces for the reading and the education of young people. I daresay that he has had criticisms in his time. I think that there was a bit of difficulty—not personal difficulty—with the Shah of Iran on one occasion. My noble friend and I have known Lord Wigg for a long time, I for at least 40 years and, I fancy, my noble friend for much longer than that—my noble friend goes back to Ho Chi Minh in 1920 and debs in America—and we know that his integrity is compelling and that he is always actuated by a desire to remedy injustice. Perhaps sometimes we think that in doing so his voice seems to take on the role of prosecuting counsel more than I would like to undertake or like to express.

The Sunday Times was mourning the murder of one of its foreign correspondents shortly after Christmas. He was a very distinguished foreign correspondent. The last time I went abroad I tried to intervene on behalf of 45 chaps who were being charged with murdering the President of Zanzibar. One of the grounds which one could not express then was that, if anyone had to be murdered, the then President of Zanzibar was precisely the man who should be, but I do not agree with assassination and I do not take that view. I met there the colonial correspondent of the Observer, who was exposing Idi Amin. He was denouncing Amin, reporting the crimes and bloodthirsty acts that were being committed. To do that is not an easy job; it is a great responsibility and I was fortunate enough—


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hale, will forgive me for interrupting him. As he knows, there is no Speaker in this House and there is no means of keeping order other than by your Lordships doing it ourselves. It occurs to me that there is a rule of relevance in your Lordships' House about debates. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hale, would perhaps think that he has in the past eight minutes strayed rather far from the narrow confines of the Unstarred Question which is being asked.


My Lords, that intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was perfectly justified, though a little late. I never quite know why it is that I am the only person who must tread the straight and narrow path or be assailed by the teeny-boppers' dawn chorus of criticism if I move an inch. I do not think I have said a word that will offend anybody—


I did not say the noble Lord had, my Lords.


—and I can only say that they have disappointed, to some extent, an old and valued friend. I have a high regard for Lord Carrington and his forthright speech and I do not take any offence. Indeed, I was about to resume my speech when he intervened. And as for my noble friend Lord Peart, he has a habit of jumping up. He told me to sit down once and he really must stop doing that.


I did not say a word about my noble friend sitting down, my Lords.


I have been interrupted twice, my Lords, and my total speaking time has now gone to 10 minutes. Truth is disappearing from the world and the people who tell the truth and report truly on these matters are doing a great service to humanity. I see in the events of the last day or two dreadful risks, dreadful causes for anxiety and sometimes a dreadful weakness in the moral authority that Britain has on occasion exercised to the advantage of the nations.


My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Hale and Lord Brockway for their remarks, and in rising to reply—

Several noble Lords: Order!


I thought there were no other speakers wishing to take part in the debate, my Lords. I apologise; I see my noble friend Lady Stewart of Alvechurch does. If she wishes to speak, I will gladly give way to her.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships' House for more than a moment or two. I must say that I did not find any difficulty in relating the Statement made by my noble friend Lord Donaldson on 17th April to the policies set out in the Government's White Paper on The West Indian Community; both the White Paper and my noble friend's Statement seemed to me to display both humanity and common sense.

Basil Davidson's book Discovering Africa's Past is, in my view, valuable. It makes considerable demands on the reader's background knowledge and I think it might be more suited to a university than a school library, but as a school governor I would leave the decision on that matter to members of the school staff and I would certainly not want to prevent young people from reading the book. We want to ensure that young people, whatever their country of origin, learn not only to read but to read critically, and are given opportunities to hear different sides of the same question in school. It is of the greatest importance that the proposals relating to education which are outlined in the Government's White Paper on The West Indian Community should bear fruit in the near future.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I now come to reply to what has been a most interesting debate. My noble friend Lord Wigg has put down a Question which on the face of it appears rather complicated. However, if he will forgive my saying so, I think the real subject of his attentions is much more straightforward, and his speech revealed that. I have no doubt at all that the noble Lord is as concerned as I am that race relations in this country should be as harmonious and happy as possible. I understand this concern very well and I know that many noble Lords in all parts of the House share it. But I must admit that even after listening to the noble Lord, I find the reasoning which links Mr. Davidson's book on Africa with a Home Office Paper on the West Indian community somewhat opaque or rather tenuous.

The Paper contains the Government's observations on the Report of the Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. A section of the observations is concerned with educational issues. Three paragraphs refer specifically to the curriculum in schools. The Government recognise the need for the curriculum to— reflect the wide range of cultures, histories and life styles in our multiracial society". Implicit in this approach is the need for appropriate supporting literature for both teachers and children, but this is the only link between the subject matter of the Paper and the remarks of my noble friend Lord Donaldson on 17th April about a book which is obviously a candidate for inclusion by schools in their reading lists for either teachers or children.

The use of one word, the word "biased", appears to be the cause of Lord Wigg's concern. So that we can put the whole issue in perspective, I start by quoting exactly what my noble friend said and put it on the record. First he said: I think Mr. Basil Davidson could be described as biased, he has never pretended not to be. I really feel that if the Conservative Party is going to suggest that defensive action should be taken in this way, it is as if they are suggesting that a former Tory Government should have suppressed Macaulay".—[Official Report, 17/4/78, cols. 872–3] Those remarks followed Lord Donaldson's statement that it was not his business to censor books and that he was not prepared to be put in the position of doing so. He introduced the word "biased" in a neutral way and went on to link it with the illustrious name of Macaulay. The next occasion on which Lord Donaldson used the word "biased" followed an intervention by Lord Wigg, who took exception to the use of the word. Lord Donaldson replied to the noble Lord, and I quote in full: My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong in saying that nobody has charged Basil Davidson with bias. Of course I think he is a writer of great distinction. I think that he is a historian of Africa of great distinction, and I consider that the first 200 pages of his book are a very distinguished history of Africa. But I think that Basil Davidson would be astonished to be cleared of bias—I really do—and I mean no offence at all".—[Official Report, 17/4/78, col. 874.] It is quite clear from this quotation that my noble friend had no intention of being offensive in any way, and his intervention this evening had made this even clearer, if that is possible.

It will also be apparent to anyone who reads the full text of the exchanges following the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, on 17th April, beginning at Column 871 of the Official Report, and ending at Column 875, that, so far from attacking Basil Davidson, my noble friend Lord Donaldson was deliberately standing between Mr. Davidson and criticism directed at him by noble Lords opposite (Lord Gridley, Lord Alexander of Potterhill and Lord Orr-Ewing). It is therefore ludicrous to suggest that my noble friend was skulking behind Parliamentary privilege in order to make remarks which he would not have made equally happily in other circumstances.

There was no conflict between my noble friend's remarks on 17th April and Government policy. A general recognition of a need for the curriculum to reflect the diversity in a multiracial society is not the same as saying that every book about colonial history, or the cultural origins of particular groups, is necessarily suitable. Each book must be taken on its merits. My noble friend made it quite clear that the school curriculum and the selection of teaching materials are the responsibility of the legal education authorities, school governors, head teachers and their staff. He has every confidence in their wisdom and their knowledge of the areas in which they work, as he made abundantly clear on 17th April. He has no intention of recommending that steps should be taken to inhibit the choice of the responsible authorities in connection with this book, or any other. So, for the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, to suggest that this benevolent view of Mr. Davidson's work is in any way sinister is really quite extraordinary.

From my own, perhaps biased, point of view, I should say that my noble friend Lord Donaldson did no more than suggest that Mr. Davidson was a writer of distinction with a specific point of view, which was apparent in the last 20 pages of his book. My noble friend—and I say this for the last time—made it quite clear then, as he has done again today, that he did not consider that this reflected adversely upon the book in question.