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Northern Rhodesia Constitution

Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1962

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

In September last my predecessor announced that once violence and disorder had ceased in Northern Rhodesia, Her Majesty's Government would be ready to consider, on the basis of the White Papers and his statement in the House on 26th June, any representations within the area where divergencies of view on the Constitution still persisted. When the Governor reported to me that violence and disorder had ceased I called for such representations and I subsequently visited Northern Rhodesia and saw representatives of all the parties concerned.

Not surprisingly, there were widely differing views expressed. But many of the demands made fell outside the limits set by the September statement. Her Majesty's Government have reached the conclusion that some changes are required in the June proposals, but that these should not amount to reopening questions which, at the time, opinion in the territory appeared in general ready to accept.

In particular, Her Majesty's Government believe that the fundamental principle of the White Papers should be maintained, namely, that it should be open to any party or parties to obtain a majority if they can pass the necessary tests and that, in particular, in order to qualify for a national seat, any candidate must obtain a stated minimum percentage of votes from both races.

Her Majesty's Government have considered with particular care the aspect of the proposed Constitution which has caused the greatest controversy, namely, the numerical alternative of 400 votes. The effect of this is that while the degree of support that an African candidate would normally have to obtain from the European voters would have been one in eight, a European appealing to African voters would have needed only around one in twenty-five. Her Majesty's Government accept that this gives ground for legitimate complaint and that the purposes of the White Papers can best be achieved if candidates have to obtain the same minimum proportion of the votes of either race. They therefore propose to abolish the numerical alternative.

Her Majesty's Government further feel that the qualification of 12½per cent. is too high and they therefore propose to reduce it to 10 per cent. We do not propose to make any other changes.

The necessary Orders in Council will be made and they will be laid before the House as soon as possible. It is the earnest hope of Her Majesty's Government that all parties in Northern Rhodesia will now co-operate in the new Constitution and fight the election, when it comes, on this basis.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) commented on the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor's proposals last June, he described them, I think, as a "dog's breakfast". I prefer to describe the right hon. Gentleman's proposals today as more like the curate's egg.

I think that all my hon. Friends will welcome the abandonment of the numerical alternative of 400 and the reduction in the qualifying percentage from 12½ per cent. to 10 per cent., although we would have wished to have seen a reduction in the qualifying percentage of an even greater amount.

Would not the Colonial Secretary agree that even this new proposal falls far short of the demands of political equity, of the recommendations of the Monckton Commission eighteen months ago, and, indeed, of the proposals of his predecessor last February? Would he not agree, for example, that under the franchise at present proposed the European community, proportionately, will still have ten times as many votes as the African community?

On a point of order. If the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) were asking a supplementary question, would it be in order for him to read it?

It appears to be a second supplementary question and, sometimes, reading may tend towards brevity.

Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Is it not still the case that it is possible, when two candidates obtain the qualifying percentage in a given seat, under the existing arrangements, for the candidate with the minority of the total vote to be elected? Does the Colonial Secretary really believe that it is possible to persuade the African population to accept the benefits of democracy when it is presented to them in such a form—a form which requires some mathematical expertise fully to understand? Let me say, in spite of that [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—that my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself hope that the African leaders will accept these proposals and will co-operate in carrying them out in the forthcoming elections.

I ask the Colonial Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—wait for it—whether he can assure the House that the elections will be held before any conference to review the Federal Constitution because it is most undesirable, now that these new proposals have been made, that the people of Northern Rhodesia should not be represented at any Federal review conference by the Government which they so elect?

I understand that the Federal Prime Minister—

On a point of order. No one really wishes to delay the culmination of this supplementary, Mr. Speaker, but is it not about time that the hon. Gentleman hatched his egg?

I wish to put a final question to the Colonial Secretary. I understand—and this is of great importance and interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House—that the Federal Prime Minister has arrived, uninvited, in London, and that his visit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Wait for it. I would like to ask the Colonial Secretary whether he will assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not be deflected from the course which has just been announced by the treasonable threats of the Federal Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and whether he will inform Sir Roy—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it within the rules of order and the bounds of propriety of the House to refer to the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a member of the Commonwealth, as acting in a treasonable way? If it is not in order, would it not be quite courteous of the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the offensive words?

What has happened so far is that the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has got half way through a sentence which, I think, contained the words "treasonable threats" and that I have not yet heard any more about it.

It will be within the knowledge of the House that Sir Roy was quoted on the one o'clock news as saying that he would go the whole hog and use all means, including, if necessary, force, to prevent a dissolution of the Federation, although it is within the constitutional powers of this House to dissolve the Federation if it so desires. Therefore, I regard the remarks which I used not only as in order, but—

We are really getting very disorderly. The strict position is that I am entitled to allow the hon. Member to ask certain questions and, to be perfectly fair, I allow certain introductory remarks on these occasions to, I think, the Leader of the Opposition only. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would now ask his question.

May I, finally, say this—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Is the Colonial Secretary aware that the survival of the Commonwealth in Africa depends on Her Majesty's Government standing firm against Sir Roy Welensky's threats in this matter?

As I announced this afternoon, this does not amount to a return to the February proposals. I was concerned not so much with the degree of resemblance between this and any other proposals, but with getting them right, as I believe we have. Certainly, I believe that we can persuade the Africans, and must make every possible effort to persuade the African parties, to participate in elections and co-operate in the Constitution on this basis. I am grateful to the hon. Member for indicating that his party will also endeavour to persuade them to take that attitude.

On the question of the Federal review, it is essential to settle this controversy about the Northern Rhodesian Constitution first, but a date for the resumption of the Federal Review Conference has not yet been settled.

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's final words; I do not accept them from any quarter at all, but I would say that Her Majesty's Government do not intend to be deflected by any threats from whatever quarter.

Would my right hon. Friend explain the difference between this announcement, the announcement that his predecessor made on 21st February last year and the announcement which he made on 26th June in this respect? The February announcement was described as the conclusion of Her Majesty's Government. The June announcement was put forward as the final decision of Her Majesty's Government. Following violence in Northern Rhodesia, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that he would withdraw it. I would like my right hon. Friend to say whether this announcement is more final than the announcement in June. If there should be a recurrence of violence will this announcement be replaced?

As I explained in my statement, my right hon. Friend said in September that we would review the situation over a limited area of the proposals when violence had ceased. Violence did cease. We did review the situation with an open mind in this area of the proposals, and we came to this conclusion, from which we shall not be deflected by threats from any quarter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the changes which he has made from the June proposals are very welcome? Can he tell us now in rather more detail the position about the minimum qualifying percentage and how it differs from the February proposals? Can he tell us whether the new proposals will allow the black Africans to elect a majority in the Assembly?

Finally, while I appreciate that the Government may not wish to comment on it, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many people in this country are profoundly shocked by the statement of Sir Roy Welensky that he is to take every step to carry out the policy which he wishes to carry out and to go the whole hog? This would appear to be a direct encouragement to lawlessness and it is a most unfortunate statement at this moment.

On the first point, the position now is that no candidate can be elected to a national seat unless he achieves a minimum of 10 per cent. of the votes cast by both races. How that will result in practice at the election no one can foretell with certainty, but, as I said in my statement, it does mean that any party or parties who obtain the necessary support and pass the necessary tests will be able to obtain a majority.

On the second point, I do not think that it would be proper for me to comment on that statement by the Federal Prime Minister.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement which he has just made indicates that the Government are still sitting on the fence and appear undecided whether to back a non-racial future for the Federation—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—or to hand over to racialists, either black or white? Could he say when the elections in Northern Rhodesia are likely to take place and, also, what plans he has for the future of the Federation, which, due to the intervention of the United Nations, has become a matter of great urgency?

The time of the elections will depend, first, on passing the necessary Orders in Council, and then drawing up the new constituencies following the new register. I do not think it will be possible to hold them before the autumn.

The future of the Federation is, I think, a matter outside the scope of this statement, which is confined mainly to Northern Rhodesia. But I think the view of Her Majesty's Government is quite clear, that the success of the Federation must depend on the future consent of the majority of the people.

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any indications of the reactions of the various parties involved to these proposals, and also from Sir Roy Welensky himself in his second, third or fourth thoughts?

I await those reactions with great interest, because very important issues hang upon them.

Will my right hon. Friend give a specific assurance that this further final settlement will do nothing whatsoever to break the continued existence of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and will he go a stage further and say that Her Majesty's Government continue to uphold the principle of a non-racial approach to those problems in Central Africa and, in fact, will promote this policy?

I believe that these proposals will contribute to the prospects of Federation in Central Africa. I believe that the only prospect for the future happiness of Europeans and Africans alike in Central Africa depends upon mutual tolerance and co-operation.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why he has not dropped the proposals so widely criticised for a separate seat for Asian and coloured voters in Northern Rhodesia? Can he also say whether Barotseland accepts the proposals which he put forward?

The question of the Asian seat is difficult. I received representations from various sources in differing directions. It is a question that one can argue about. We thought it right to concentrate on the thing that really matters, the main bone of contention, by removing the discrimination between European and African in the matter.

I have assured the Litunga that the special position of Barotseland is not affected by the changes that I have announced this afternoon.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he seems this time to have struck about the right balance of unacceptability between the two parties? Inevitably, some Europeans in Northern Rhodesia will think that it goes too far and some Africans will think that it does not go far enough. I believe that the majority of opinion here and in Northern Rhodesia will support my right hon. Friend if he sticks to the decision and carries it into action.

We have done our best to produce what we believe to be the right answer, and if it is not accepted by all parties in Northern Rhodesia the consequences will be tragic everywhere.

Does the right hon. Gentleman regard this as a final constitutional settlement of the problem in Northern Rhodesia? In the event of the Africans boycotting the Constitution as now presented, and of instructions being forthcoming from Sir Roy Welensky and his party, what will the policy of the Government be?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what will be the position of the Africans on the Governor's Executive as a result of the constitutional changes and should the Africans secure a majority?

I regard this as a definitive statement of the position at this stage of the constitutional development of Northern Rhodesia. The second question I must regard as hypothetical. I did not quite understand the purport of the third question.

Obviously, if there is a majority of Africans elected to the Legislative Council, some position will have to be found for Africans on the Governor's Executive. What I want to know is this. If a majority is secured in the Lower Chamber, will a majority be permitted on the Governor's Executive?

It is the normal practice of Governors to form a Government based upon the majority party after election.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how very much on this side of the House we welcome the down-to-earth manner in Which he has dealt with this very difficult problem? Does he realise that the vast majority of his hon. Friends feel that, had he made a different statement today, he would merely have postponed a question which, in two or three years, would have been very much more difficult to answer?

Does the Secretary of State realise that apparently convincing answers—though, I gather, rejected by him—to what he has now announced were given by his predecessor the present Leader of the House in paragraphs 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the White Paper which he presented to the House as a final settlement in June, 1961? Having regard to this difference between Ministers sitting together on the Front Bench, it is plain that this is a very complicated matter.

The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there will be some Orders, but, of course, Orders in Council may come on at any time of the day or night. Will the Leader of the House be willing to provide a proper opportunity for the House to discuss this very important statement made by the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, which, clearly, overturns the statement which he himself made last June?

Orders in Council will come before the House, and there are other opportunities which can be taken. Perhaps the most satisfactory way would be to have discussions through the usual channels.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am the only hon. Member who put down a Question to the Secretary of State for the Colonies asking him whether he was prepared to make a statement on the Northern Rhodesia Constitution. I have sought throughout to catch your eye. I wonder whether, in the circumstances, you would think it right to allow me to ask the Secretary of State a supplementary question.

I confess that the hon. Gentleman's Question was not in my mind at the time. I have this difficulty every day with these matters, when the time comes when, obviously, we ought to stop and an hon. Member who is left out feels that it is unfair. In this instance, I should like to relent and allow the hon. Gentleman to ask one question.

I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Will the Secretary of State say, first, whether these proposals honour the assurances about the Northern Territories which were given to the Southern Rhodesians at the time of their referendum? Secondly, since the Prime Minister has taunted the Leader of the Opposition with being a sort of Lord North, may we have an assurance that there are no Lord Norths sitting on the Treasury Bench who might provoke Sir Roy Welensky into becoming not only a George Washington but an Abraham Lincoln, who, just 100 years ago, was reluctantly compelled to fight to save the Union?

The statement I made today does not represent any departure from any undertaking whatsoever given by Her Majesty's Government.

On the second point, I should be tempted to reply that my knowledge of history is not adequate to deal in any detail with my hon. Friend's supplementary question did I not feel that I must say that these are matters of such moment that we must in this House deal with all on a basis of reason, not of passion.