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Indians, South Africa (Status)

Volume 395: debated on Thursday 2 December 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for India what communications His Majesty's Government in London or in India have had with the Government of South Africa concerning the discrimination in Natal against Indians possessing landed or house property, and with particular regard to the prosecution of P. R. Pather?

As regards communications between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Union of South Africa, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given him on 4th May by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, to which I have nothing to add. I have not received the text of the Government of India's representations to the South African Government, but their general purport was to take strong exception to the proposed legislation and to suggest various alternative solutions which the South African Government were unable to accept. I have no information regarding the prosecution of Pather except that I have received a telegram purporting to be from his advocate.

Can we have a little more information on this subject, and, in particular, can my right hon. Friend tell us whether His Majesty's Government are supporting the Government of India, in view of the widespread feeling in India, both among Europeans and Indians, about the treatment of these Indians by the South African Government?

Yes, Sir, I am aware of that feeling, but in accordance with what has been the practice now for some considerable time in Imperial relations, this matter is one which is dealt with directly between the Government of India and the Government of the Union of South Africa.

What is the position of Indians in South Africa, particularly in Durban, who have protested against what they feel to be entirely unfair treatment of themselves, and have they no redress?

Do I understand from the reply that under the Statute of Westminster it is not open to His Majesty's Government to support another Government, namely, the Government of India, in a protest which they make?

No, Sir, I would not say that. It is always open to His Majesty's Government to make any representation to any other Government in the Empire or outside on any matter, but in accordance with usage and convention, even before the Statute of Westminster and going back to the Conferences of 1921 and of 1923, these matters have been left primarily for the Governments of the Empire to deal with each other, and in this respect India has long been recognised as enjoying the status of a Dominion Government.

Would it be too much, in view of the representations made to hon. Members on this subject, to mention—I shall not say remind—to the Union of South Africa that every citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations has democratic rights?

Questions of citizenship are in every member of the Commonwealth a matter for the Parliament of that Commonwealth itself.

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has told us now he can offer no protection whatever to these Indian citizens?

I understand that the persons mostly affected are not Indian citizens; they are British subjects of South Africa of Indian origin.