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Basutoland, Bechuanaland And Swaziland

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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51.

asked the Prime Minister in view of the recent official announcement by Dr. Malan of the intentions of his Government to secure the transference of our South African Protectorates, whether he will make it clear to the South African Government that Her Majesty's Government will not agree to such a transferance without the consent of the peoples in those Protectorates.

I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions in reply to this Question.

Do I understand from that answer that we shall be entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman questions on the statement?

At the end of Questions

I will now, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, answer Question No. 51.

There can be no question of Her Majesty's Government agreeing at the present time to the transfer of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland to the Union of South Africa. We are pledged, since the South Africa Act of 1909, not to transfer these Territories until their inhabitants have been consulted and until the United Kingdom Parliament has had an opportunity of expressing its views. General Hertzog himself, in 1925, said that his party was not prepared to incorporate in the Union any Territory unless its inhabitants wished it.

It is the interest, as it is also the desire, of this country and of South Africa, that the friendship which has developed so strongly between us over the years should remain unbreakable. I therefore sincerely hope that Dr. Malan and his Government, with whom we have hitherto happily co-operated on so many problems we share in common, will not needlessly press an issue on which we could not fall in with their views without failing in our trust.

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is also making a statement on this subject in another place.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this reply will give profound satisfaction both to the people of this country and to the indigenous inhabitants of these three Protectorates? Is he further aware that the crucial reference is to the word "consult"? Can we take it now that "consultation" in this context means also consent?

If the Prime Minister did not hear me, may I repeat that the first part of my supplementary question asked him whether he did not appreciate that his answer would give profound satisfaction?

As the right hon. Gentleman did not get the second part of my question, may I ask him again whether we are to take it that the word "consult" in the context in which it is used can now be taken to be synonymous with "consent"?

I should greatly hesitate to try to give my opinion now on a matter full of legal subtleties and with the deep constitutional importance attaching to it.

May I ask the Prime Minister to accept on behalf of us on these benches that we welcome very much the statement he has made? We, too, join in the hope that the Government of the Union of South Africa, having regard to the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, will not pursue' this matter any further.

I am not sure that I can give any assurance about their not pursuing it. We have very good and friendly relations with them. Now that they have brought the matter forward like this and have seen what our attitude is bound to be—not the attitude of this Government only but a long-established attitude—I think it is very likely that things will be settled in a more friendly manner than would appear on the surface at this moment.

While agreeing with the Prime Minister that it is desirable that this matter should be settled by South Africa's dropping the question, I would ask the Prime Minister to consider, if they do pursue it, having an early debate in the House soon after the Recess so that the opinion of the whole House on this matter can be made clear to the Union of South Africa?

We must always consider whether a debate will be helpful at a particular moment or not. After all, there is such a wide measure of agreement that I do not think there is much occasion to express our views by debate.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the second part of his answer is neither as clear nor as satisfactory as the first part? Would he agree that it is essential that the people of these Territories should be absolutely certain that this Government will not permit them to fall under the influence of Dr. Malan? Will he therefore say something now that will free us from any fear that when he talks about consulting the people of the Territories he may mean consulting in the same way as when Seretse Khama was banished? Would he not agree that the people wanted Seretse Khama back, and that therefore we do not want ambiguity?

Strong views however agreeably expressed, are by no means a qualification for being a constitutional authority.

I wish to give notice that, in view of the entirely unsatisfactory nature of the Prime Minister's answer, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Is not this a situation where the least said at the present time the better?