Orders of the Day — Central African Federation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Smethwick 12:00 am, 24th July 1952

Behind the matter we are to discuss today lies one of the central problems of our generation, which will certainly be with us throughout this generation, namely, the question of colour and of racial relations. In many parts of the world colour conflict has transcended class division as the motive force of politics and history. I think that the claim of the Soviet Union to be able to solve problems of colour is now much more potent than her claim to solve social and economic problems in the world.

Britain, because of its position in Central and East Africa, will have a most important role to play in the solution of this extremely grave problem of colour and racial relations. We shall have to contribute to the solution of this problem as we did to the solution of the problem of nationalism in India and as we are doing to the problem of nationalism in West Africa. But the problem of multiracial societies such as those with which we are dealing this afternoon is really much more crucial than the problem of nationalism that we had to deal with in Asia.

We are dealing with communities that are different in almost every way except that they are resident, settled and permanent communities in the area in which they live. We must start on the basis that all these communities are African communities, that there are white Africans as well as black Africans, and that they not only have to learn to live together but—what is really more difficult—they have to live together during this transition period of adjustment from an automatic European superiority to one of real partnership and equality between the races.

I hope that none of us in this debate will be arrogant and assume that the solutions that we advocate are obviously and automatically the right ones. We are in the sort of position in which any decision that we take as a country and as a House—and, indeed, if we take no decision at all—will have very grave and serious consequences. What we have to do is to find the best, on balance, of the solutions that will open out the best prospects of a settlement of this problem.

I have always been in favour of federation for Central Africa. I think that, in the situation with which we are faced there, it opens the way for the best solution. It is in the interest both of our own country and of the African countries. I should like to mention one or two reasons why I hold that view.

First, there is the economic one, into the details of which I do not propose to go, and which is that there must be development and capital investment. I want to deal with the point that is sometimes made that capital investment can be equally easily done without federation. I do not think that is a true proposition, because I think that the investors from whom the capital has to come certainly pay attention to the stability and political unity of the country in which they invest. Without federation, there would not be political stability and certainty in this area.

Secondly, it is essential, if the resources of this area are to be properly developed, that they should be under a single political authority, and that is particularly true of the copper of the Copper Belt and the coal of Wankie. It is everywhere admitted that these two great resources which must be exploited can never be well run under two separate Governments, and that we shall never solve the problem of getting the coal to the Copper Belt unless a single political authority controls both.

This is a matter in which our own interests and the interests of the Africans coincide. It is clearly in our own interests, to get rid of dollar dependence and so forth, that the capital resources of the area should be developed, and it is equally in the Africans' interests that they should be developed, because there cannot be progress and social welfare unless the wealth of the territories is exploited.

I think there are very good social reasons too, because the social development of all the communities, including the African, cannot be separated from the problem of scale. I want here to refer to the problem of higher education for Africa. Some people have taken the view that it is wrong that this should be included in the list of federal powers, but, as I see it, it is not possible to develop higher education for Africans unless it is done on a federal scale. One of the important arguments in favour of federation is that it will permit of the proper development of institutions for the higher education of Africans which cannot be possible in any other way.

It came as a great shock to me to discover that, if an African in any of our territories in Africa—the Colonies, the High Commission Territories and Southern Rhodesia—wanted higher education, he had to go to the Union of South Africa. This was brought home very forcibly to me and to my right hon. Friend when 'South Africa placed a ban upon the entry of Africans from outside territories to her schools and universities, and this caused very great concern and great alarm among Africans in all our territories in South Africa.

However, South Africa reconsidered this ban and lifted it. At the time, I was making a tour of the High Commission Territories, and was able to announce that the South African Government had lifted the ban, and the effect was very impressive. The same people, whom I had met at great assemblies, and who were urging very strongly that we must in no circumstances transfer the territories to the Union, welcomed and cheered the announcement that the Union Government had lifted the ban on Africans from outside. That brought home to me very gravely and sharply the problem which we had to face. The ban has been lifted for only three years by the Union Government, and, if it were re-imposed, we should be in the position of having to find alternative means of providing higher education for Africans in our territories.

When I was there I was greatly discouraged to see that we had not managed to develop in Central Africa institutions for higher education for Africans, and I came back determined to do what I could to see that we got institutions for the higher education of Africans in Central Africa. It cannot be done by any one of these territories by itself. It is one of the things that can be done only by the pooling of resources—tax resources, and all the rest—and it certainly is important for the social and political advancement of Africans that there should be proper provision for higher education.

Thirdly, there are very good political reasons in favour of the principle of federation. We must not assume that the British connection in Central Africa is permanent, inviolable or divinely ordained. The simple fact is that our influence in Central Africa is in potential danger, and if we do nothing about it it will come into increasing danger.

The essence of the trouble is not, as is sometimes said, the question of immigration from the south, which is very important and can only be dealt with on the basis of federation, but the question of the future of Southern Rhodesia. Some people say that Southern Rhodesia has tried to threaten or blackmail us, when there is a simple explanation about it.

Southern Rhodesia is not strong enough to stand alone. It must, in the end, go north or south. There is no third alternative against Southern Rhodesia in the end going north or south, if left to stand on its own. This might happen quickly if there were an economic crisis; if not, the development might be long postponed, but, in the end, I think one can say from the start that Southern Rhodesia must go either north or south, and that, if it does not go north, it will go south.

Some people say that that will make no real difference, that there is no real difference between native policy in Southern Rhodesia and native policy in the Union, but this is a situation which we must frankly face. To those who say that, I would put two points. One is that they should ask any African in Southern Rhodesia if he is indifferent on the question whether Southern Rhodesia becomes part of the Union or not, because, if there is no difference in the native policy of the two countries, it makes no difference whether they are united or not. I asked many Africans, both collectively and individually, who had strong views on federation, and every one said that he was by no means indifferent, on grounds of either politics or history, to the country being incorporated in the Union of South Africa.

The second point is that I ask my hon. Friends who take this view to consider what would happen if the border of South Africa were to extend to the Zambesi. It would have a very great effect on the fate of British Central Africa and bring the whole of our influence in this area into jeopardy. I take the view that the maintenance of British influence in Central Africa is just as much in the interests of the Africans as it is in our own interests.

Certainly, one fact that is beyond dispute is that all Africans in the territories concerned are in favour of maintaining the British connection. That was made clear in the communiqué that was issued after the Victoria Falls Conference, when the whole Conference, including the Africans, asserted the importance of maintaining the British connection. Indeed, the objections made by Africans in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to federation have been made on the ground of the need to preserve the British connection, and there is no question about the Africans being in favour of maintaining it.

However, it is not enough to say that we are in favour of maintaining it; in the circumstances, it is necessary to do what is required to preserve it. That is really the fundamental reason why I am in favour of federation. I do not think we can preserve the British connection without federation, for Southern Rhodesia cannot stand alone, but must go either north or south.

Then we come to two rather difficult problems, one concerning the constitution, which is described in the White Paper, and the other concerned with African opinion about these proposals. On the constitutional issue, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) hopes to make a few observations later and to express our views on this matter, to which we attach very great importance. I will therefore leave that question to him, and I want to make only one or two points.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn to page 23 of the White Paper, paragraph 5 (1). There are two points I want to put to him. Both are about the African Affairs Board. How far is it intended that the African Affairs Board should play a positive and constructive rôle and not merely have negative and restrictive functions? The word used is "representations," which certainly could mean constructive as well as purely negative functions. On the other hand, it could have a rather negative meaning. I am sure it is intended that the Board should have constructive functions, and I hope that will be made clear in any document which is finally produced.

I turn to the more important point of the question of their influence upon executive action. The paragraph reads: It will be the general function of the Board to make … such representations in relation to any matter within the legislative or executive authority of the Federation. But when I read the rest of the Paper, I find no mechanism by which they can operate at all in the executive field. There is a good deal of detail about what they can do in the legislative field, but no mention at all of how they would operate in the executive field. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could give some information about that—whether and how, for instance, the Board would have pre-knowledge of executive action, because without some pre-knowledge it is obviously impossible to exercise the functions in the field of the executive.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would now turn to page 25, paragraph 5 (4, a). This is a point to which I attach great importance. It says that the Governor-General may in his simple discretion over-ride the recommendation of the African Affairs Board. I quite see that in certain emergencies that may have to be done temporarily, and provision is made for that in another clause, but here it says that he can ignore the African Affairs Board if he is satisfied that the Measure is not a differentiating Measure. After all the elaborate procedure set up, the Governor-General can, in his own discretion, simply ignore the recommendations of the Board. That would bring into doubt the whole of the elaborate apparatus set up to enable the Board to protect African interests.

The Board is, after all, a responsible body appointed by the Governors and the Governor-General, and it must be assumed that it will not make frivolous recommendations; but that can be the only possible assumption underlying this clause. It seems to me that this is something which must be altered, because, if it is not, everybody will have doubt about the powers of the Board, if they can be overturned by the Governor-General in his own discretion. Incidentally, I am not quite clear whether that discretion would be used on the advice of Ministers of on his own motion. I hope the situation will not arise, because I hope the provision will be changed.

We come to an even graver matter—the question of the provision for amendment to the constitution. Here we are in a very difficult position. On the one hand, we all agree that we want the constitution to prevent undesirable amendments which would change federation into amalgamation or change the guaranteed Protectorate status of the Northern Territories or change the land rights of the Africans. We are all agreed that we want to make it impossible to introduce such undesirable changes, and from that point of view the provisions are very good, because they make it extremely difficult, and cer- tainly impossible without our consent, to make that sort of change.

At the same time, of course, it makes it impossible to introduce desirable changes. Here we are in a dilemma. We do not wish to make it impossible to make some desirable changes, especially some to which I and my right hon. Friends attach very great importance, and there must not be, as a result of any action we take here, a shutting down of the scope and hope of African political advancement. There must be African political advancement as a result of what we are doing if the word "partnership" is not to be just a word but is to have some meaning.

There is the further point to which I attach much importance—that it would be wrong if, as a result of this constitution, we brought to an end all chance of the initiative coming from the United Kingdom Government in the affairs of this area. This is a developing problem in its whole essence and it cannot be solved in a minute. We must therefore not petrify it, as I think the constitution does by its provision for amendment.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one way out of this problem—because we certainly do not want to make it easy to make undesirable amendments—might be to provide in the constitution for a review of the constitution within five or 10 years, or some suitable time. I do not think it should be an exact time, but should be some sort of time like that, and it should be a review in which all Governments, including Her Majesty's Government, take a full part in the discussion. We can take the initiative and the possibilities of further advance and political development in the federal constitution can then be examined.

There is another question on amendments. I am also worried about the prospects of a political advance of Africans in the federal field. By maintaining the Protectorate status, we have provided that their advance in the territorial field, in the two Northern Territories, shall continue and that the right hon. Gentleman and his successors will be responsible for it. But it is also very important that there should be political development and advance for Africans in the Federal field.

If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to pages 14 and 15 he will find, as he knows already, of course, that the Federal Assembly and nobody else has complete control over all matters of election to the Federal Assembly. He will find, further, on page 15 that any amendment or change in the qualification or disqualification for voters needs a two-thirds majority of the Federal Assembly—that is, a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Assembly, not just a two-thirds majority of those present. That is the most difficult form of two-thirds majority which one can have.

It is not very likely that this Federal Assembly will allow any rapid or considerable political advance, if any advance at all, for Africans in the elections to the Assembly, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman very strongly that the control over the methods of election—who should vote and things of that sort—should be transferred from the Federal Assembly to the territories so that Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia should each be responsible for determining who votes and what the qualifications are. There can then be a steady advance, certainly in the territories for which the Colonial Office will remain responsible, of Africans in full participation in elections, which will then be reflected in the Federal Assembly. That, of course, is the model of the United States, which is a classic of a written constitution of this sort. There, the centre determines the numbers who shall be returned from each State, but each State determines the electoral method—and there is a great variety of electoral methods.

Incidentally, from page 16, paragraph 5 (1) I understand that Nyasaland could keep this power if they merely failed to make an appointed day. The power of controlling methods of election and qualifications to vote starts in the Legislative Council of Nyasaland, and until they themselves appoint a day for that transfer to the Federal Assembly the power will remain with them; and by failing to appoint a day, Nyasaland could keep the power. Thus we already could have one territory out of the three having this power in its own hands. I think it would be a very good idea if Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia were given the same power, which they need not transfer to the Federal Assembly unless they make an appointed day.

I come to the question of African opinion, which is the crux of the whole matter. Some of us do not like federation, but nearly all agree with it in principle, and those who agree in principle have to face the problem of African opinion. Our objective is, of course, to seek federation with African consent. That can be our only objective.

It is not only morally right and all the rest, but it is of course necessary to the working of the constitution that there shall be full co-operation of all the communities concerned, and not only the African. This objective of seeking federation with African consent is one to which we attach the very greatest importance. It is of the utmost importance to win African consent to the general principle and, indeed, the details of federation, and I must say that the Government have shown themselves to be very clumsy in the handling of these matters as regards the impact upon African opinion. They have not done things that will make it more likely that Africans will consent, but have done a number of things that will make it less likely.

That is one of the complaints against the Government—the failure to follow up the partnership talks in Northern Rhodesia after the conference is a case in point. There was certainly some slowing up of the plan which I and my right hon. Friend left behind us at the Victoria Falls Conference. Care is taken to keep the thing within the limits of propriety, but there is not equal care about urgency. There was here in London or elsewhere a slowing up of plans.

Then there was the change of date of the next conference without consulting all the parties to the earlier conference, which we criticised at the time. That is the change from July back to April. It is bound to give an impression of rush and hurry and of disregard of African susceptibilities, and it shows an ignorance of the very important psychological factors involved.

We are not only dealing with economic and constitutional factors but with psychological factors of great importance—fears, doubts, some of them irrational but nevertheless very real. All these psychological factors have to be borne in mind. I stress them all the more because I urge the Government to make one more great effort to win African consent to federation.

In that connection, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something of the time-table which the Government have in mind, because it is in terms of the timetable that in the past the Government seem to have been rather clumsy in their actions. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that it has been decided to slow up the time-table somewhat and to put off the conference in October about which he told us earlier in the House. There has been a big debate on the matter in another place and the Government have bad plenty of time to consider the very strong representations made for delay on all sides during that debate. I hope that the Minister can announce a substantial postponement of the date of the proposed October conference.

It will give more time to consult African opinion and to do something to correct the impression which the Government have created by over-rushing. I also suggest to the Secretary of State that he should go out and consult the opinion of all communities on the spot. We are very glad that the Minister of State is going out. He will be able to report to his colleagues. But this is so important for the area concerned and for our country that it is essential that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State should go out to see things on the spot and make up their minds, to consult all the communities there and to obtain an impression of the real situation.

We have a very great deal at stake, and it would show a proper regard for the issues if the Secretary of State went out. I think that it is a necessary step, and I urge that both Ministers should go. I also ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an absolute guarantee that we will have another debate in the House before Parliament is committed to any final action on this question. Parliament is the final authority. We have not yet got all the facts before us. African opinion is now being consulted, and it is right that at this stage we should postpone a decision. But we can only agree to postpone the decision if we have an absolute and categorical assurance that there will be no commitment of the House of Commons before we have another debate on this matter. We regard that as of the utmost importance.

We all want to secure federation with the consent of all communities, including, of course, the Africans. I urge upon the Government to subordinate all their plans and all their measures and all the things they say and do to that end. I urge them to remember that it is not enough to get the policy right and that the attitude and approach matters a great deal in this connection.

We are dealing with fears and suspicions, and fears and suspicions take account of gestures and attitudes as well as and perhaps more than policies and constitutional proposals. We regard this project of Central African federation as one of the greatest possible importance, and I urge the Government to tell us that they are going to make one further great effort to obtain the consent which is necessary to make this project work.