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Southern Rhodesia (Constitution) Bill

Volume 648: debated on Friday 10 November 1961

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Considered in Committee.

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHERGRAY in the Chair.]

Clause 1—(Power To Provide A New Constitution For Southern Rhodesia By Order In Council)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.17 a.m.

I think it must give great satisfaction to Sir Roy Welensky that this Bill is likely to receive the assent of the Committee. I say that because ever since I have known him he has been most anxious that the last ties between Rhodesia and London be broken—at least, Whitehall control. This Clause achieves that purpose so far as Southern Rhodesia is concerned, and, therefore, it must be a matter of great gratification to him that the Government are putting through this Measure.

I still feel that these proposals are inadequate from the point of view of the Africans and of African interests. Some reference has been made to the fact that the existing reserve powers under the present arrangements have proved weak and inadequate, and I think that perhaps the Secretary of State's point on Second Reading was valid, that even in the days of a Labour Government there were discriminatory Acts passed at the expense of the African population. I can only say that right through the years long before the war I was a consistent opponent of the policies pursued by the Southern Rhodesian Government and myself made representations to the Prime Minister of the day about the policy of segregation and discrimination which was vigorously pursued in that country.

It may have been that in the preoccupations of the Labour Government the reserve powers Measures referred to by the Secretary of State went by unnoticed, but I should like to emphasise that the reserve powers which did exist were not altogether ineffective, and I would add that Lord Malvern on several occasions referred to the fact that the existence of those reserve powers acted as a check or restraint on the Southern Rhodesian Government in respect of certain of the acts which they might otherwise have taken.

Therefore, if the strength of this Bill is that the reserve powers were ineffective, that they were seldom if ever employed by the United Kingdom Government, nevertheless they did restrain unduly discriminatory measures and probably made measures less discriminatory than they otherwise might have been.

It is as a result of conversations I have had from time to time with Lord Malvern that I say this, and I think that Sir Roy Welensky would admit the truth of this. But the question arises whether by the abolition of these reserved powers the alternative arrangements are adequate. I can only repeat what my friends said during Second Reading. In their judgment and mine the compensating Clauses which will appear in the new Constitution for the abolition of the reserved powers, are altogether inadequate. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to suggest that there will probably be African political advancement, even beyond the figure of 15 seats in their Parliament, but the clauses of the new Constitution will place African representation in a straitjacket.

I judge from the speech which Sir Roy Welensky made to the Institute of Directors on Wednesday that there is no great enthusiasm on his part to promote further African political representation. I therefore can only console myself by the fact that Sir Edgar Whitehead has shown in the last year a much more progressive and enlightened approach to African issues. I hope that that will be a continuing attitude on the part of the Southern Rhodesian Government, though I confess that Sir Roy Welensky's speech does not encourage me in that hope.

The truth is that no effective checks can be applied to the spirit of African nationalism. The fact that Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland will very soon have African Governments must make its impact on African opinion and even European opinion in Southern Rhodesia itself. No restraints can contain the upsurge of the African spirit. Although the Bill tends as I have said to put African political representation in a strait-jacket, I believe that over a comparatively short period the Africans will press through the restraints which the new Constitution proposes to impose. That is how I see the situation, and I must express my very deep regret that the Bill is inadequate in the compensations it offers. I recognise, of course, the fact that African representation in the Southern Rhodesia Parliament has at last been conceded and is a substantial step forward.

I hope that Africans, rather than boycott the Constitution when it comes about, will themselves fight the elections, obtain representation, and make the Floor of the new Parliament the place where a great deal of their national aspirations can be expressed and the fight for political freedom won. I express my dislike of the Bill and hope that my own fears about its scope will not be fulfilled in the political life of Southern Rhodesia.

I welcome the Bill. I have great faith in the future of Rhodesia. Unlike the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), I believe that this is a great experiment in multi-racial partnership. The British Commonwealth itself is a multi-racial partnership in which the whites are a very small minority. The right hon. Member for Wakefield referred in some detail to the problems of the reserved powers. I suggest that these powers are very much like a long-stop. We as a long-stop so far away on the boundary have failed to stop balls because we have not appreciated the speed of the pitch. By doing away with the long-stop, the wicket keeper will be able to keep a more careful eye on the balls that come through. The fundamental basis of good management in industry is to place responsibility and authority in the same hands, and I believe that the Bill does this.

Today we are discussing a coming of age party, or rather what is virtually a marriage. What sort of best man is it who gets up at the marriage ceremony and talks about how the bride and bridegroom cannot get on together? This Constitution must last a long time and, therefore, certain safeguards have to be written into it. I believe that these safeguards have been very adequately written in. The Declaration of Rights and the Constitutional Council give the needed protection.

Certain hon. Members think that the instruments are too blunt, but I would remind them that it is sometimes claimed that the delaying tactics in the other place in this Parliament are too restrictive. We should highlight the points in the new Constitution that join the multi-racial partners together. Those of us who have worked in Rhodesia and have walked round Salisbury and have seen the magnificent edifices there and the Kariba Dam know something of the monuments to co-operation between the two partners.

It is our duty in this Parliament to build confidence in Rhodesia. Her future depends on world confidence. How can we possibly expect the world to have confidence in Rhodesia if we in the House of Commons have no confidence in it ourselves? The future of Rhodesia depends on economic development, and economic development depends on world confidence. I hope that when the time comes the House of Commons will give unanimous support to a Third Reading of the Bill and show its confidence in the future of this multi-racial State.

We have discussed every aspect of this matter now several times. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) spoke with his accustomed clarity and moderation and went right into the heart of the matter in questioning whether the safeguards which are to be written into the new Constitution and which were described in detail in the White Papers compensate for the reserve powers which Her Majesty's Government are now giving up. I can only say what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on numerous occasions and what I said on Second Reading—that it is our belief that the new safeguards will be more effective than the reserved powers.

We base our belief on the understanding, put very well indeed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), that the reserved powers have a far less deterrent effect than the right of citizens in Southern Rhodesia to have recourse to the courts in defence of their rights.

11.30 a.m.

It is our belief that the new Constitution, which will be promulgated in the Order in Council shortly, represents a great step forward for all the people of Southern Rhodesia. The right hon. Member for Wakefield, in his generous remarks about Sir Edgar Whitehead, acknowledged the very great changes which have been sweeping over that country and give hope that the new Constitution will be a success and serve the interests of all the people there.

I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman called for Africans in Southern Rhodesia to take the opportunities which the new Constitution will give them of playing a fuller and more responsible part in the life and destiny of their country.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.32 a.m.

This is the fourth occasion on which the House has been confronted with the question whether in principle it approves the pro- posed Constitution. On the three previous occasions and again today our very keenly felt objections have been voiced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones). I do not think I should be serving a useful purpose in repeating what would have to be almost verbatim what I have already urged upon the House on the Second Reading. Indeed, my objections followed very closely those which had previously been put before the House. The House has thought right by a majority to reject them.

In those circumstances I will not again go over the question of principle, to which we nevertheless adhere. I should simply like to ask one rather technical question which arises out of a point which I put to the Government on Second Reading. I asked the Ministers in charge of the Bill what the intended scope of the anti-discriminatory provision was and whether it was intended to apply to Bills which as a result of their operation discriminated against a certain group or whether it had only the more limited effect of applying to Bills which in terms named a certain group as being subject to a certain restriction.

In replying to the debate, the Secretary of State said that it was the intention of the Government that the scope should be the wider of those two. However, he very kindly said that he would look again at the language in the White Paper, Cmnd. 1400, to make certain that the wider scope was indeed the scope embodied in the language of Appendix II of Cmnd. Paper 1400. I now simply ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has been able to give further consideration to that language and whether he feels that some alteration to it is necessary to achieve certainty where, in my submission, doubt now resides.

While I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to both Ministers for their very courteous speeches and their endeavours to allay our doubts and solace our anxieties, we nevertheless feel that they did not succeed in doing so, and, therefore, we oppose the Bill in principle as vigorously as we have done and with as deep feelings as we have entertained ever since we saw the original proposals which emerged from the Constitutional Conference.

11.35 a.m.

My right hon. Friend gave an assurance to the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) that he would have the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised looked into further. I understand that what my right hon. Friend has said substantially represents the position, but I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we shall not leave the wording as it stands unless we are entirely satisfied that it carries out our intentions, on which my right hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman are agreed. In other words, we shall look at the matter very carefully in the light of what my right hon. Friend said.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, this is the fourth occasion on which we have discussed the principles involved in the Bill and in the Constitution. In commending the Bill to the House, I am sure that, whatever views may have been expressed during our debates, the whole House will now wish a smooth passage for the introduction of the new Constitution and an ordered progress for all the peoples of Southern Rhodesia. All that remains for me to do is to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House for the way in which they have facilitated the passage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.