HC Deb 15 June 1955 vol 542 cc12-5W
Mr. Beresford Craddock

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on constitutional changes in Nyasaland.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Since the conference between African, Asian and European representatives which was held in Nyasaland on 4th March, I have been giving much thought to the problems of constitutional development in Nyasaland.

Both the African and the non-African communities have great contributions to make to the future of the territory and each community needs to be given a feeling of security: the African community needs to feel safe from domination by the smaller, but much more advanced, non-African community and to be assured of opportunity to develop its potentialities and of help in doing so; the non-African community needs to be assured that it will not be swamped by the Africans, who are so much more numerous but whose experience of modern forms of government and organisation is still so recent. They must not have any cause to fear that they may be prevented from continuing their work in the country or from contributing to its further progress. At the same time there must be an eager—indeed, an adventurous—searching after some new form of constitutional arrangements which will assure security and opportunity to all and will at the same time be less likely than the present system to foster a purely racial approach to politics.

Nothing to my mind is more important for the future of Nyasaland than that during the next few years a real effort should be made in the Territory to devise arrangements along these lines which will be acceptable to all concerned.

Such arrangements may have to be unusual and are bound to take time to work out. There would have been much to be said for leaving things alone meanwhile. But some changes within the ambit of the present system have been expected for some time and, by Africans, felt to be overdue; that indeed is why I authorised the Governor to put forward the proposals which were discussed at the conference in March.

These proposals have been criticised from all sides. In particular, the Africans have put forward suggestions for African representation on Executive Council and parity with the non-African unofficials on Legislative Council.

I do not consider that the time has yet come for the inclusion of an African on Executive Council. I have considered very carefully the suggestions for parity on Legislative Council. The immediate practical effect of having a sixth African member would be slight; for there is to be an official majority over all unofficials and it is, I think, generally agreed that this should be so. But, in Central Africa, parity—and in this context we mean parity between Africans and non-Africans and not the parity between three races which we have in Tanganyika—has become a sort of magic word, conjuring up all the emotions on which racialism thrives. I believe that if we introduced now something which could be called parity we should stir up these emotions and all our hopes of real progress along the lines I have outlined above would rapidly fade away.

So I have decided that my original proposals should be put into effect. This means that there will be an increase in the total membership of Legislative Council from 21 to 23. There will be 12 Official Members including the Governor, six non-African Unofficials and five African Unofficials. The non-African Members of Legislative Council will be elected on a non-African electoral roll by constituencies. The African Members will be elected by the African Provincial Councils instead of being selected by the Governor, as hitherto, from a Panel of names submitted to him. There will be no change in the composition of Executive Council.

The decision that non-African members of Legislative Council will be elected on an electoral roll has raised the question of the property and income qualifications for voters on that roll. The appropriate level of these qualifications for the various electoral rolls in Central Africa is a matter which will shortly have to be considered by all the four Central African Governments and, in particular, there will, under the Federal Constitution, need to be consultations between the Federal Government and the Government of Nyasaland about the property and income qualifications for registration as a voter in Federal elections in that territory. This is because the constitution provides that until such date as may be appointed by the Legislative Council of Nyasaland, Federal electoral regulations applying to that territory are to be made with the agreement of the Governor. Pending these consultations I have decided that the electoral roll to be introduced for non-African elections to the next Legislative Council in Nyasaland will, purely as an interim measure, be subject to the same property and income qualifications as those which were used in the Federal elections held in Nyasaland in 1953.

With the introduction of elections it will be necessary to set a term to the life of the Legislative Council in Nyasaland. It is proposed to set a term of four years. This period will, I sincerely hope, be used by all concerned in Nyasaland to join together in trying to work out a new approach such as I have described in the opening paragraphs of this statement, so that, if agreement is reached on new arrangements as a result of such consultation, they can be introduced at the beginning of the following four-year period.

It has been a great disappointment to me that I have not yet been able to visit Nyasaland, and I hope very much that before too many months have passed I shall be able to repair this omission and also to visit Northern Rhodesia. If my wish is fulfilled, I hope that I may perhaps in personal discussions out there be able to make my contribution to the development of thought on these matters.